The meeting that President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and two other Trump campaign officials had with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer last year was set up because Trump Jr. had been promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to three White House advisers who spoke with the New York Times.
On Saturday, the Times revealed that on June 9, 2016, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then–Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had a meeting in Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has been working to repeal a Putin-despised U.S. law that imposes sanctions on Russian nationals implicated in human-rights abuses.
Trump Jr. said on Saturday that that he was “asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance,” and he had Manafort and Kushner tag along, though he didn’t know the name of the person he was meeting. Trump Jr.’s statement said the primary topic was a Russian adoption program, and gave no indication that Clinton or the campaign were discussed.
In a new statement to the Times on Sunday, Trump Jr. admitted that there was more to the story:
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” [Trump Jr.] said, “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.”
He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of 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,” he added.
Trump Jr. said the acquaintance who set up the meeting was someone he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow. The Washington Post identified that acquaintance as a music publicist named Rob Goldstone. He told the paper that he arranged the meeting at the request of one of his clients — though he refused to say who.
Goldstone manages Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the son of billionaire Moscow developer Aras Agalarov. The Agalarovs have publicly discussed their relationship with the Trumps on many occasions, as ThinkProgress notes. Aras sponsored the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, and when Donald Trump visited Moscow he held a dinner to introduce him to more than a dozen of Russia’s top businessmen. In March, Emin told Forbes that “he and his father had plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia that would now likely be under construction had Trump not run for office.”
Goldstone told the Post he attended the Trump Tower meeting, but did not describe any discussion of Clinton, or say he indicated that it might yield information useful to the campaign. He said Veselnitskaya just wanted to discuss how Trump could be helpful on the Magnitsky Act, if he was elected. “Once she presented what she had to say, it was like, ‘Can you keep an eye on it? Should [Trump] be in power, maybe that’s a conversation that he may have in the future?’ ” Goldstone said.
Donald Trump Jr. says he shot Veselnitskaya down:
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. This 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.
After the first Times story was published on Saturday, President Trump’s outside legal team put out a statement suggesting the whole episode had been some kind of Democratic opposition-research setup, and that Trump Jr. had been misled since the people he was meeting “misrepresented who they were and who they worked for.” The legal team’s spokesperson, Mark Corallo, said that President Trump did not attend the meeting and was not aware of it. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also promoted the oppo-research trap theory during his appearance on Fox News Sunday, calling the whole story a “big nothingburger.”
As a point of context, the leaking of emails allegedly stolen from the Democratic Party by Russia-linked hackers began one month after the Trump Tower meeting.
This post was updated to include more information on Goldstone and the Agalarovs.