Trump Jr., lawyer’s meeting has ’13 link
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s eldest son acknowledged Monday that he met a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign to hear information about his father’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, as a link to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia emerged.
The meeting was set up at the request of Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose Kremlin- connected family has done business with Trump in the past, according to the person who arranged
the meeting — Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who represents Agalarov, who helped sponsor the Trumpowned Miss Universe pageant in Russia.
The revelations about the meeting come as federal prosecutors and congressional investigators explore whether the Trump campaign coordinated and encouraged Russian efforts to intervene in the election to hurt Clinton and elect Trump.
Trump Jr. tried to brush off the significance of the meeting, tweeting, “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent … went nowhere but had to listen.”
He later tweeted to rebut the notion that his explanation for the meeting had changed.
“No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions,” Trump Jr. said. “In response to further Q’s I simply provided more details.”
After that, New Yorkbased attorney Alan Futerfas
said he had been retained to represent the president’s son. And Trump Jr. said on Twitter he was willing to work with the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the panels probing possible campaign collusion, “to pass on what I know.”
Lawmakers on the committee from both parties said they indeed wanted to talk with the president’s son. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the panel “needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, said, “This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians” to obtain information damaging to Clinton.
Warner wouldn’t say whether he already knew about Trump Jr.’s meeting as part of his panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Warner said the revelations “move us forward, and we expect much more to come.”
The White House on Monday flatly denied that any Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russian government to influence the election, while referring most questions about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the lawyer to outside attorneys.
“The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed,” White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
In a briefing with reporters that was not broadcast on television, Sanders said the president learned additional details only this weekend about the meeting his eldest son had with a Russian lawyer.
“I’ve been on several campaigns, and people call offering information, as I know many of you receive calls of people offering information,” she said. “Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Monday that the Kremlin doesn’t know the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad. Although she has not been publicly linked with the Russian government itself, Veselnitskaya represented the son of a vice president of stateowned Russian Railways in a New York money-laundering case settled in May before a trial.
The sequence of events that led to the June 2016 meeting highlighted the web of relationships that investigators now are sorting through.
The president’s son said the meeting was arranged by an acquaintance he knew through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant
Trump held in Moscow. Trump Jr. didn’t name the acquaintance. Goldstone has said he was the acquaintance.
Goldstone said the Russian lawyer stated that she had information about purported illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee that she thought Trump Jr. might find helpful.
Goldstone had previously told The Washington Post that he set up and attended the meeting for Veselnitskaya so that she could discuss the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended the meeting. Goldstone said he and a translator also participated.
During the meeting, Goldstone said, Veselnitskaya made comments about campaign funding “that were not specific,” then turned the subject to a discontinued Russian adoption program.
She then proceeded to discuss the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that imposed sanctions on Russia for its alleged human-rights abuses. Angered over the law, Russia retaliated by halting U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
The acts are named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who died under mysterious circumstances in a Moscow prison in 2009 after exposing a corruption scandal.
Over the weekend, Trump
Jr. initially omitted any mention of Clinton from his account of the meeting, describing it as a “short introductory meeting” focused on adoptions.
A day later, Trump Jr. acknowledged he was told beforehand that Veselnitskaya might have information “helpful” to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had something about Clinton.
Agalarov and his father, Aras Agalarov, a wealthy Moscow real estate developer, helped sponsor the Trumpowned Miss Universe pageant in Russia.
During his 2013 visit to Moscow, Trump spent time with Emin Agalarov, appearing in a music video with him and several contestants in the pageant. Aras Agalarov sought to partner with Trump on a hotel project in Moscow and tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin during the Miss Universe contest. The hotel deal has been on hold since Trump began running for president.
According to The Washington Post and several other media accounts, the elder Agalarov paid Trump $14 million to $20 million to stage the pageant in Moscow, but he was unable to persuade Putin to meet with Trump. Putin canceled the session, sending Trump a friendly letter and a lacquered box in appreciation, the Post has reported.
Meanwhile, the Agalarovs
are also close to Putin. Aras Agalarov’s company has been awarded several large state building contracts, and shortly after the pageant, Putin awarded the elder Agalarov the “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation,” a prestigious designation.
Emin Agalarov told the Post last year that he had spoken with Trump numerous times about the need to build stronger ties between Russia and the United States.
A spokesman for the Agalarovs did not respond to request for comment, nor did a spokesman for Trump Jr.
RAISES RED FLAGS
The circumstances surrounding the meeting fueled new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, which are being scrutinized by federal and congressional investigators. Some election law experts said a discussion of potentially damaging information on Clinton could prompt scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in light of federal laws barring foreign contributions to campaigns.
Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said the situation “raises all sorts of red flags.”
“You do not want your campaign to be involved with foreign nationals, period,” said Noble, now senior director at the Campaign Legal Center.
Foreign nationals are prohibited
from providing “anything of value” to campaigns, and that same law also bars solicitation of such assistance. The law typically applies to monetary campaign contributions, but courts might consider information such as opposition research to be something of value.
Bradley A. Smith, a former Bill Clinton-appointed Republican Federal Election Commission member, said that based on what’s known about the meeting, Trump Jr.’s actions are unlikely to be considered illegal solicitation. “It’s not illegal to meet with someone to find out what they have to offer,” Smith said.
But Derek Muller, an associate professor at Pepperdine who focuses on election law, said, “It makes perfect sense to investigate this situation further.”