- Donald Trump Jr. was told he would get compromising information on Hillary Clinton if he met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
- News of the meeting first emerged on Saturday, but Sunday’s report shed new light on Trump’s motivation for taking the meeting.
- This report comes as the Trump campaign is under multiple congressional and FBI investigations for possible collusion between members of the campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election.
President Donald Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about then-candidate Hillary Clinton when he agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin in June 2016, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The article cited three advisers to the White House who were briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The Times first reported on the meeting with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, on Saturday. It was arranged by Donald Trump Jr., and was attended by him, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. It is the first confirmed meeting between a Russian citizen and the Trump campaign.
Veselnitskaya has strong ties to the Kremlin and is known for waging a harsh campaign against the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which blacklisted Russians suspected of human-rights abuses. Putin has called the Magnitsky Act “outrageous” and retaliated by barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
Veselnitskaya was also married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients have included Russian state-owned businesses.
Trump Jr. said in a statement to The Times on Sunday that in the meeting, “after pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.” The statement continued, “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Trump Jr. said she steered the conversation to the adoption program Putin had cut off and the Magnitsky Act.
“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” he said, implying his primary interest in accepting the meeting was to obtain damning information on Clinton from the Russians.
Veselnitskaya told The Times on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed. She added that she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
Mark Corallo, the spokesman for President Trump’s outside legal team, told The Times on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
The Times report comes as the Trump campaign is being investigated by Congress and the FBI over whether any campaign associates colluded with Russian officials in an effort to tilt the 2016 election in favour of Trump.
When Trump Jr. was first reached for comment about the meeting on Saturday, he did not mention the meeting was arranged after he was promised compromising information on Clinton.
In his initial statement to The Times, Trump Jr. said it was a “short introductory meeting,” and that he had “asked Jared and Paul to stop by.”
“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” he said.
But in another statement released hours after The Times published its first story on Saturday, Trump’s legal team painted the meeting as part of a Democratic effort to use Russian operatives to undermine the Trump campaign.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Corallo said in the statement.
“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” he said.
The Steele dossier is an unverified report by former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele containing a number of damning and at-times salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia.
There is no evidence that Veselnitskaya is connected to Fusion GPS, but there have been unconfirmed reports in conservative media circles that Fusion’s CEO, Glenn Simpson, was retained by Veselnitskaya’s client, Denis Katsyv, the son of senior Russian government official Pyotr Katsyv and owner of the Cyprus-incorporated real-estate company Prevezon. Prevezon was being investigated by the Department of Justice at the time of the meeting over money laundering charges. Simpson has denied the reports.