- A Russian lawyer said Donald Trump Jr. told her that once elected, Donald Trump would review a US law sanctioning Russians in exchange for dirt on Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
- It was the second of at least three times that a Trump campaign official alluded to swapping access to Trump for favours from Russia.
- The pattern is likely to be of interest to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to undermine Clinton before the election.
The Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman at Trump Tower in June 2016 says Donald Trump Jr. offered to review a US law sanctioning Russians if his father was elected president in exchange for dirt on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,” Trump Jr. said, according to the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Trump Jr. was referring to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which Veselnitskaya has been lobbying against along with the Russian-American political operative Rinat Akhmetshin since at least last year.
The law was passed to punish those suspected of involvement in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who uncovered a $US230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 that implicated high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin.
Veselnitskaya said Trump Jr. added, “I understand our side may have messed up, but it will take a long time to get to the bottom of it.”
Veselnitskaya made the remarks in an interview with Bloomberg, weeks after reports surfaced that she may have been acting as an agent of the Kremlin at the meeting.
A memo she brought with her to the meeting contained many of the same talking points as one written by the Russian prosecutor’s office two months earlier. But Veselnitskaya has insisted that she did not provide the campaign the dirt it was expecting.
Still, that Trump Jr. may have signalled a willingness to exchange a major policy shift for help winning the election from a Kremlin-connected lawyer is likely to be of interest to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to undermine Clinton before the election.
‘Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime’
That meeting was not the first time someone on the Trump campaign had expressed interest in exchanging access to the president for a favour from Russia.
Court documents filed by Mueller’s office and unsealed last week revealed that George Papadopoulos, an early Trump campaign adviser, was told that Moscow had dirt on Clinton in late April 2016 — six weeks before the Trump Tower meeting.
The special counsel’s office says Papadopoulos kept trying to organise a meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials even after learning that Russia was trying to undermine Clinton.
It is still unclear whether Papadopoulos’ efforts were connected to the Trump Tower meeting. The meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. by Rob Goldstone, a music publicist for the son of a wealthy Russian-Azerbaijani real-estate developer with close ties to the Kremlin.
Goldstone told Trump Jr. in an email that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
The information, Goldstone said, was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Those emails were forwarded to Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, who had already been fielding emails from Papadopoulos asking whether a Trump-Putin meeting could be arranged.
“Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss,” Papadopoulos wrote to Manafort on May 21.
Manafort forwarded the email to an associate, Rick Gates, and said: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Papadopoulos emailed Manafort again on June 19, telling him that he would be willing to travel to Moscow to meet with Russian government officials “if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”
‘If he needs private briefings we can accommodate’
That trip never took place. But on July 7, 2016, about one month after the Trump Tower meeting, Manafort offered to accommodate a Russian oligarch’s request for private briefings on the campaign. Manafort’s representative has said he was trying to leverage his high-level role in the campaign to collect past debts.
Of the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, Manafort wrote, “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”
Manafort was a top adviser to Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions from 2004 to 2014 and in debt to pro-Russian interests by as much as $US17 million by the time he joined the Trump campaign, according to The New York Times. He and Gates were indicted by a grand jury last week as part of Mueller’s investigation.
Russian sources cited in a dossier compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele say that by late July 2016, there was “a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between the Trump campaign “and the Russian leadership,” both of which had an interest in defeating Clinton.
The Steele dossier also said that the campaign agreed to sideline the issue of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and interference in eastern Ukraine in exchange for WikiLeaks releasing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
The Trump campaign’s national-security-policy representative for the Republican National Convention acknowledged in an interview with Business Insider in September that he had given his campaign colleagues the opportunity to “intervene” when an amendment to the GOP’s draft policy on Ukraine was introduced in Cleveland in July 2016.
The original amendment, which proposed the GOP commit to sending “lethal weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian aggression, was altered to say provide “appropriate assistance” before it was included in the party’s official platform.
Papadopoulos was still pursuing a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russia as late as August 15, 2016, when a campaign supervisor told him that he would “encourage” Papadopoulos and another foreign-policy adviser “to make the trip” to Moscow “if it is feasible.”
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