President Donald Trump’s eldest son says he met with an individual he had been told “might have information helpful to the campaign” in June 2016.
Donald Trump Jr.’s statements come in response to The New York Times’ reporting that he “was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.” The New York Times cited three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The revelations underscore the fundamental issue for federal investigators as they probe Russia’s interference in last year’s election: Did the Trump campaign collude with Russians in an effort to hurt Clinton and win the White House?
Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement to CNN that the meeting was set up by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in a suburb of Moscow. His statement said he was not given the person’s name beforehand. CNN has confirmed the Russian lawyer he met with is Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Trump Jr. also said he invited Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort to attend the meeting, “but told them nothing of the substance.”
“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,” Trump Jr. said in the statement. “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. added that the lawyer then changed subjects and began discussing a separate issue: the adoption of Russian children and a US law known as the Magnitsky Act, which allows the US to withhold visas and freeze the assets of Russians thought to have violated human rights.
Veselnitskaya founded a group purporting to seek the removal of Moscow’s ban on the adoption of Russian children by US citizens, which it put in place in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act; she has also sought to repeal that law.
Trump Jr. said that when Veselnitskaya began discussing these other issues, “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. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office.”
The meeting lasted about 20 to 30 minutes, he said, adding, “As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.”
The New York Times, which first reported the previously undisclosed meeting, says it occurred at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 — two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. It is the first known meeting of several of the senior-most members of Trump’s team and a Russian national during the campaign.
CNN has reached out to Veselnitskaya, whose comments to The New York Times conflict with Trump Jr.’s account of their meeting. She told the newspaper: “Nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign.” And she added, “I have never acted on behalf of the Russian government and have never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
Trump’s representatives did not answer further questions about the meeting.
Kushner disclosed the meeting with the Russian lawyer in revised documentation that he submitted to obtain a security clearance for his White House job as a senior adviser to the President, his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement.
When Kushner initially filed his forms, he did not list any contacts with foreign government officials, Gorelick said. Kushner then submitted supplemental information saying he had “numerous contacts” with foreign officials, she said.
Gorelick said the additional documentation includes the information “that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said he didn’t know much about the meeting when asked about it on “Fox News Sunday.”
“It was a very short meeting,’ Priebus said. “It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption.”
He added: “Jared Kushner put in his disclosure a little prematurely. He’s since amended it. All of that is disclosed.”
A lawyer for Manafort did not respond to a CNN request for comment about the meeting.
A spokesman for the President’s legal team told CNN the meeting could have been an effort to create an appearance of inappropriate connections between Trump family members and Russia.
“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,” the spokesman, Mark Corallo, said.
Corallo confirmed Trump Jr.’s statement, adding, “The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”