It Took 3 Days For Don Jr. To Cop To Meeting Russian Lawyer For Clinton Dirt

Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Donald Trump Jr. has offered three different explanations over the course of three days for why he met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer two weeks after his father secured the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

That Trump’s eldest son took the meeting at Trump Tower, with his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in tow, in the hopes of digging up dirt on his father’s likely presidential opponent shows that some Trump campaign figures had no qualms about accepting help from a Russian national. The news comes as a special counsel, as well as four congressional committees, are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives.

When The New York Times first broke the news Saturday about the meeting, which took place on June 9, 2016, Trump Jr. offered no indication that it was related to the presidential campaign.

“It was a short introductory meeting,” he said in a statement to the newspaper. “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,” he added.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has campaigned heavily against the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on 18 Russian officials believed to have committed human rights violations. It was named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who died mysteriously in prison after exposing wide-scale corruption in the Putin government. Russia retaliated against the United States for the law, imposing similar sanctions on 18 U.S. officials and banning Americans from adopting Russian children.

Though adoptions are a pet issue of Veselnitskaya’s, Trump Jr. conceded Sunday that issue was not why he actually agreed to the sit-down. After three unnamed advisers to the White House briefed on their meeting and two additional anonymous sources spoke to the Times, Trump’s son explained that he was told Veselnitskaya would have “information helpful to the campaign” to offer him.

Reiterating that he did not know Veselnitskaya’s name ahead of time, Trump Jr. gave a different account of what he said was a 20-30 minute meeting.

“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 in a Sunday statement to the Times. “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.”

As Trump Jr. himself clarified, once he learned that Veselnitskaya did not possess information relevant to the 2016 election, he felt that the meeting was a waste of time.

“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 said in the statement.

Veselnitskaya, for her part, told the Times that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed during their conversation.

Trump Jr. divulged even more information about the motivation for his meeting on Monday, saying explicitly that he believed Veselnitskaya had “info about an opponent.”

He also denied that there was anything unusual about his differing accounts of the meeting, tweeting that, “In response to further Q’s I simply provided more details.”

Substance aside, the Veselnitskaya meeting also contradicts Trump Jr.’s assurance to the Times in March that he never attended any meetings “set up” with Russian nationals as a campaign surrogate or ever discussed government policies connected to Russia.

For now, it seems, the eldest Trump son will have to stake out his own defense. The President’s private legal team has denied that he had any knowledge of the meeting, and though he fired off a fusillade of tweets Monday morning, including one defending his daughter Ivanka, he made no mention of the reports about his son.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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