Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the president, acknowledged Sunday that he met with a woman who turned out to be a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the 2016 presidential election — after being told she allegedly had information that could help his father’s presidential campaign.
The New York Times first reported on Saturday that Donald Trump Jr. met with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, prompting him to respond with a short statement confirming that the meeting occurred.
He said he attended “a short introductory meeting” with Veselnitskaya, where the topic of conversation was primarily about adoption. He added that the topic was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow-up conversation.
“I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting beforehand,” he added in Saturday’s statement. According to Donald Trump Jr., the meeting occurred in June 2016 and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended.
Then on Sunday, The Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting after being told that the person there had information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Times article, which was based conversations with three anonymous White House advisers, said news of the meeting represented the first public indication that members of the 2016 Trump campaign were willing to accept Russian help.
Donald Trump Jr. then released a more detailed statement after the Sunday report.
“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,” Trump Jr. said in Sunday’s statement. “I was not told her name prior to the meeting.”
He added that he asked Kushner and Manafort to attend but that they knew “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,” he said. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense.”
Donald Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya did not provide any details or information that related to Hillary Clinton and that the topic of conversation turned to American adoption of Russian children.
He claimed that the conversation continued to revolve around adoption and the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that barred Russian human rights abusers from entering the country. In response, the Russian government stopped American families from adopting 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,” Donald Trump Jr. said in Sunday’s statement. “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 took about 20 to 30 minutes, he added.
The Times had previously identified the lawyer as Veselnitskaya, a Russian national known to push the Kremlin’s agenda and its continued battle against the Magnitsky Act.
Donald Trump Jr. said his father did not know about the meeting.
“The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting,” President Trump’s legal team said in a statement.
Manafort and Kushner did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment, though Kushner’s attorney confirmed on Saturday that the meeting did occur.
Kushner did not initially include the meeting on his national security questionnaire that his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said was filed prematurely.
“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.,” Gorelick said. “As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
The United States intelligence community has concluded that Russia was the mastermind behind a series of hacks and propaganda campaigns in an effort to interfere with the 2016 election. NBC News has reported that senior intelligence officials believe — with a “high degree of confidence — that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved.
On “Fox News Sunday,” White House Chief of Staff Rience Priebus called the meeting a “big nothing-burger.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a team of investigators that is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government’s campaign. The House and Senate intelligence committees are also looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump and his campaign have maintained that there was no collusion.
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit on Friday where they discussed the 2016 election and Russian-linked cyber-attacks.
Lavrov told reporters after the bilateral meeting that Trump had accepted Russia’s denial of interfering in the 2016 election, which would differ from the consensus reached in the U.S. intelligence community.