Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer on the understanding that she would provide compromising information about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Trump Jr. invited Jared Kushner and then–campaign manager Paul Manafort to tag along. But then, said lawyer just talked his ear off about the outrages of the Magnitsky Act, which had imposed sanctions on (wrongfully accused, in her humble opinion) Russian human-rights violators, like her client.
That is Trump Jr.’s story, anyway. The New York Times’ narrative of the encounter, as of late Monday night, adds a rather significant detail: Before taking the meeting, Trump Jr. was informed that the dirt he would receive from the lawyer was part of a Russian-government effort to aid his father’s campaign.
That Times story also revealed that the meeting was arranged by music publicist Rob Goldstone, who represents Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, son of billionaire real-estate developer Aras Agalarov.
On Tuesday morning, that Russian lawyer added her story to the public record. In an interview with NBC News, Natalia Veselnitskaya said that she has been working for years on an effort to undermine the case that triggered U.S. sanctions against her client. As part of that research, she discovered “details about a company run by a former U.S. citizen” that she believes has evaded taxes in both Russia and America. She also suspects that this company “may also have made donations to the DNC,” in NBC News’ phrasing.
A bit incongruously, Veselnitskaya claimed that she “never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that.”
Asked why, precisely, the Trump campaign would have come to believe otherwise, Veselnitskaya speculated, “It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”
So, Veselnitskaya’s story appears to be: She had heard some rumors about illicit donations to the DNC from a sketchy Russian company, but had no hard info about that. She met with the Trump campaign solely to lobby the presumptive Republican nominee to repeal the Magnitsky Act. But, perhaps, there was some miscommunication in the run-up to that meeting that led a campaign desperate for dirt to believe that she had some to give.
While Veselnitskaya’s narrative contradicts Trump Jr.’s with regard to the meeting’s impetus, it comports with his claim that he experienced the meeting as a tedious bait-and-switch.
“The question that I was asked was as follows: whether I had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the DNC were coming from inappropriate sources,” Veselnitskaya said. “It was never my intention to collect any financial records to that end.”
Veselnitskaya’s description of the meeting paints Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort as passive, peripheral participants.
“I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes, and then he stood up and left the room,” she told NBC News. “It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.”
“And the other individual who was in the same meeting, but all the time he was looking at his phone,” she continued. “He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort.”
So, make of all that what you will. Veselnitskaya seems roughly as credible a source as anyone from team Trump — which is to say, not very credible at all. Specifically, the suggestion that she never offered incriminating information about the DNC, and that Donald Trump Jr. merely hallucinated that offer in his voracious hunger for opposition research, like a dehydrated desert traveler teased by a mirage of an oasis, seems implausible.
Regardless, all these details appear secondary to the one that the Times revealed last night, and which Trump Jr. has been unable to credibly refute: After being invited to participate in a Russian government conspiracy to aid his father’s candidacy, Trump Jr. didn’t call the FBI, but rather, his dad’s campaign manager.