US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., had reportedly been made aware that the source of potentially damaging information promised to him on his father’s presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, ahead of a meeting with a Russian attorney linked to the Kremlin, was the Russian government itself. The June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower took place during the presidential campaign, weeks after Trump was named as the Republican nominee.
According to the New York Times on Monday — reporting for the third consecutive day on the June 9, 2016 meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer — the president’s eldest son was told in an email preceding the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy for president.
Trump Jr. acknowledged Monday he made time for the meeting, arranged through a publicist for a Russian pop star whose father had business connections to the Trumps, hoping to get information about Clinton. Veselnitskaya never produced the material, according to Trump Jr.
Music publicist Rob Goldstone confirmed he set up the meeting on behalf of his client, Russian singer Emin Agalarov. 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.
The Times reported that Goldstone had sent Trump Jr. an email indicating the Russian government was the source of the information, according to three anonymous sources with knowledge of the correspondence.
There is no indication in the report that the material was related to the Russian hack of DNC emails that summer.
Goldstone denied knowing any involvement by the Russian government when he wrote the email, over a year ago. The Times’ efforts to reach him after the contents of his email were described to the paper were not successful.
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.
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.
He said she offered a “vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t.”
“It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard,” he told the Times, adding that it made him agitated and led hom to question whether he had “taken out a huge amount of their busy time.”
Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and is not required to disclose his foreign contacts.
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 a disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to US sanctions against Russia after the death in 2009 of an imprisoned lawyer who spoke about a corruption scandal.
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.
“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” he said. ” It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” He said there was no follow up after the meeting and his father was unaware it happened.
Earlier Monday, he tried to brush off the significance of the meeting, tweeting sarcastically, “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.”
Hours later, New York-based 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.”
Futerfas said after the latest Times report that it was “much ado about nothing.”
“During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia,” Futerfas told the Times.
“Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed,” he said,
The Times reported Sunday that Veselnitskaya has deep tied to the Kremlin and is known for her attempts to undercut the sanctions against Russian human rights abusers. It also said her clients include state-owned businesses and the son of a senior government official whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting.
The Kremlin said Monday it was unaware of the meeting and denied involvement.
Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin does not know who the lawyer is and added that the Kremlin “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer and their meetings in Russia or abroad.
Moscow has also denied being involved in the known hacking of the DNC and rejected allegations it tried to sway the contentious presidential election in Trump’s favor. American intelligence agencies have determined that it indeed tried to do so.