Congressional investigators examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election are now focusing on whether the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee received donations from Russian sources following a Trump Tower meeting involving two Russian lobbyists last June, according to a Thursday NBC report.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended the June 9 meeting with two Russian lobbyists — Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin. The meeting was organised by Donald Trump Jr., President Donald Trump’s eldest son.
Manafort took notes during the meeting on his iPhone and submitted them to the Senate Intelligence Committee late last month. The word “donations” and a reference to the RNC appear in the notes, which have “elevated the significance” of the meeting for congressional investigators, NBC reported.
“A complete investigation will answer whether the Russians were working with the Trump campaign and whether that included financial assistance,” said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“There are enough accounts out there that we should probe further to see if that was the case,” Swalwell added, pointing to the June 9 meeting and recent revelations about the Trump Organization pursuing a real-estate deal in Moscow during the election.
“Clearly we have to keep following the money,” he said.
In a statement later reported to have been dictated by his father in early July, Trump Jr. said the meeting centered on an adoption program that Russian President Vladimir Putin cut off in retaliation for the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which blacklisted Russians suspected of human-rights abuses.
But subsequent reporting — and evolving statements from Trump Jr. — revealed that he had been offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton in exchange for taking the meeting, and that Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin used the rendezvous to push for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
“The Russian approach to Trump Jr. via Veselnitskaya was truly carefully planned,”said Bill Browder, the founder of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act.
“Asking Donald Trump Jr. and the rest to withdraw the Magnitsky Act if Trump were elected was such a significant request that they would have come with various things to offer, and they would have thought carefully about what,” Browder said. “They wouldn’t have come to this meeting empty-handed.”
The June 9 meeting has also come under intense scrutiny by FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, whose grand jury interviewed Akhmetshin at length earlier this month.
Browder was less than optimistic about how useful Akhmetshin’s testimony was to federal investigators.
“Akhmetshin is a known liar,” Browder said. “So the testimony will be most useful in seeing where those lies contradict other people’s lies.”
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