Trump’s son met Russian lawyer to get information on Clinton

Details of 2016 meeting, attended by campaign chairman and Kushner, unknown

 Donald Trump jnr:  It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer he met in June 2016, Natalia Veselnitskaya, produced any  compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Photograph: Al Drago/The New York Times

Donald Trump jnr: It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer he met in June 2016, Natalia Veselnitskaya, produced any compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Photograph: Al Drago/The New York Times

 

US president Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump jnr, was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by Mr Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr Manafort and Mr Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to the New York Times.

The New York Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it. The meeting – at Trump Tower on June 9th, 2016, two weeks after Mr Trump clinched the Republican nomination – points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

And while Mr Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and the Russians, the episode at Trump Tower is the first such confirmed private meeting involving members of his inner circle during the campaign – as well as the first one known to have included his eldest son. It came at an inflection point in the campaign, when Mr Trump jnr, who served as an adviser and a surrogate, was in the ascendant and Mr Manafort was consolidating power.

It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, produced the promised compromising information about Mrs Clinton. But the people interviewed by the New York Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so. In a statement on Sunday, Mr Trump jnr said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance.

“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms Clinton. 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.”

Adoption of children

He said she then turned the conversation to the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, a US law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Russian president Vladimir Putin that he retaliated by halting US adoptions of Russian children.

“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,” Mr Trump jnr said. When he was first asked about the meeting on Saturday, he said only that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Mrs Clinton.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

Lawyers and spokesmen for Mr Kushner and Mr Manafort did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In his statement, Mr Trump jnr said he asked Mr Manafort and Mr Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election towards Mr Trump, in part by stealing and then providing to WikiLeaks internal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails that were embarrassing to Mrs Clinton.

A special prosecutor and congressional committees are investigating the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians. Mr Trump has disputed that. On Sunday morning on Fox News, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, described the Trump Tower meeting as a “big nothing burger.” “Talking about issues of foreign policy, issues related to our place in the world, issues important to the American people is not unusual,” he said. However, Adam B Schiff of California, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, one of the panels investigating Russian election interference, said he wanted to question “everyone that was at that meeting.”

“There’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or with Mr Kushner or the president’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” Mr Schiff said after the initial New York Times report.

Ms Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act. The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the legislation. Ms Veselnitskaya’s clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the FBI, according to a former senior law enforcement official.

Ms Veselnitskaya said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed. She recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr Kushner or Mr Manafort walked out. She said she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Revised version

The Trump Tower meeting was disclosed to government officials in recent days, when Mr Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. The New York Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the head of a Russian state bank. Failure to report such contacts can result in a loss of access to classified information and even, if information is knowingly falsified or concealed, in imprisonment.

Mr Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error, and that he had immediately notified the FBI that he would be revising the filing. Mr Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Mr Trump jnr’s role in organising it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events. Neither Mr Manafort nor Mr Kushner was required to disclose the content of the meeting.

A spokesman for Mr Manafort declined to comment. Since the president took office, Mr Trump jnr and his brother Eric have assumed day-to-day control of their father’s real estate empire. Because he does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, Mr Trump jnr was not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts.

– (New York Times service)