The eldest son of President Donald Trump met with a lawyer connected to the Russian government under the impression that she had damaging information on Trump’s presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Donald Trump Jr. initially claimed the meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was simply to discuss an adoption program. But after further reporting, the Times discovered that Trump Jr. had been promised the information about Clinton before arranging the meeting. Trump Jr. then released another statement that differed from his original explanation, offering two versions within a 24-hour period.
On Saturday, the Times uncovered the meeting, which took place June 2016. It’s the first confirmed meeting between Trump’s inner circle and Russian figures during the presidential campaign, amid multiple investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
The meeting was also attended by Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior White House adviser.
Prior to the Times reporting that Veselnitskaya had promised damaging information about Clinton, Trump Jr. released a statement to the media on Saturday:
“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.
“I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Then on Sunday, he admitted to the Times that he was asked to meet “with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.” He clarified on Monday that he knew in advance that the meeting pertained to Clinton.
In a Sunday statement to several news organizations, including Reuters, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s outside legal team handling matters related to the Russia probes, said that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
The Kremlin also denied knowing about the meeting, according to The Associated Press.
Kushner has been under investigation after failing to disclose his own meetings with Russian officials during Trump’s transition in December, and the Times found this new revelation through a revised version of a form that Kushner filled out to receive a government security clearance.
So far, the investigations into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia have focused on more indirect campaign associates, including former advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone, and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned in February after misleading administration officials about the extent of his own interactions with Russian officials.
It is unknown whether Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who has represented Russian state-owned businesses and the son of senior Russian government official, actually had damaging information about Clinton, the Times reported.
Trump Jr. addressed the Veselnitskaya meeting in a new statement Sunday but revealed the real reason he, Kushner and Manafort had attended: to obtain information “that would be helpful to the campaign.”
“I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. 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. 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. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. 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 approximately 20 to 30 minutes. 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.”
On Monday, music publicist Rob Goldstone confirmed to several news outlets that he was the acquaintance who set up the meeting. Goldstone’s client, singer Emin Agalarov, is the son of a Russian real estate mogul who had planned to partner with Trump to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow. In addition, Agalarov and Trump appeared in a music video for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owned at the time and took place in Russia that year.
Later on Monday, the White House defended Trump Jr. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the elder Trump learned of the meeting “in the last couple of days.” She also affirmed that “Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.”
“No one within the Trump campaign colluded,” she said, in response to the other Trump campaign officials with links to Russia.
Sanders claimed the real problem was the “inappropriate” leaks of information, a frequent line of attack from the Trump administration.
“The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed,” she said.
Read the Times’ full report here.
This article has been updated with information about Rob Goldstone and with Sanders’ statement.