US President Donald Trump’s eldest son was told that the Kremlin was behind supposedly damaging information he received about his father’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during a meeting with a Russian lawyer last year, according to reports.
The circumstances surrounding the meeting, and a report by The New York Times that Donald Trump Jr (pictured above) was told ahead of time that the source of the information was the Russian government, fuelled new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Moscow, which are being scrutinised by US investigators.
The meeting between Mr Trump Jr and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during last year’s presidential campaign occurred at the behest of a Moscow-based singer with family ties to Trump businesses, it has emerged. Mr Trump Jr has acknowledged that he made time for the meeting last year, hoping to gain information about Mrs Clinton.
The Times reported that Mr Trump Jr, who was a key campaign adviser to his father, was told the Russian government was behind the information on Mrs Clinton in an email from music publicist Rob Goldstone.
The Times cited three unnamed people with knowledge of the email.
The report is the first public word that Mr Trump Jr took the meeting with the understanding that he would be presented with damaging information about his father’s political opponent and that the material could have emanated from the Kremlin. Mr Goldstone confirmed he had set up the meeting on behalf of his client, Emin Agalarov, but he did not disclose the contents of the email described by The Times.
In a statement, Mr Trump Jr’s New York-based lawyer Alan Futerfas called the Times report “much ado about nothing”, though he acknowledged his client had received an email from Mr Goldstone to set up a meeting with the purpose of passing along damaging information on Mrs Clinton. His statement did not dispute the Times report on the email.
Mr Futerfas said Mr Trump Jr was not told the specifics of the information and nothing came of the meeting.
“The bottom line is that Don Jr did nothing wrong,” Mr Futerfas said in the statement, noting that the younger Trump has not been contacted by any congressional committees or Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
The White House referred questions to the president’s son. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s outside legal team, would not comment on the Times story, reiterating only that Mr Trump “was not aware of and did not attend the meeting”. Earlier, Mr Trump Jr tried to brush off the significance of the meeting, tweeting: “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.”
Mr Trump Jr also 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”. Members of the committee from both parties have said they do indeed want to talk to the president’s son. The president’s son said the June 2016 meeting was arranged by an acquaintance he knew through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant Mr Trump held in Moscow.
Mr Trump Jr initially did not name the acquaintance, but in an interview, Mr Goldstone confirmed he set up the meeting on behalf of Mr Agalarov. Mr Goldstone said Ms Veselnitskaya stated that she had information about purported illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee that she thought Mr Trump Jr might find helpful. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said he does not know Ms Veselnitskaya and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad.
Mr Agalarov’s father, Aras, is a Russian developer who sought to partner Mr Trump on a hotel project in Moscow and tried to set up a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin during the Miss Universe contest.
According to The Washington Post and several other media accounts, the elder Agalarov paid Mr Trump $14m-$20m to stage the pageant in Moscow. Aras Agalarov was unable to persuade Mr Putin to meet Mr Trump.
Over the weekend, Mr Trump Jr initially omitted any mention of Mrs Clinton from his account of the meeting, describing it as a “short introductory meeting” focused on a disbanded scheme which had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. A day later, Mr Trump Jr acknowledged he was told beforehand that Ms Veselnitskaya might have information “helpful” to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had information about Mrs Clinton.
“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” he said. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” He added that there was no follow-up after the meeting and his father was unaware it happened.