More on the Trump Jr. Meeting (Updated)
The NYT has a follow-up on the story I wrote about earlier today concerning a meeting between a Kremlin-connected attorney and key members of the Trump campaign team: Trump’s Son Met With Russian Lawyer After Being Promised Damaging Information on Clinton
President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.
The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.
Trump Jr. issued a statement (reproduced in full below) which corroborates the basics of the NYT piece (via Fox News):
“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.
“I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared (Kushner) and Paul (Manafort) to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. 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.
“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.
“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. 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. That 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.”
The 2013 Miss Universe pageant was held in Russia.
A news analysis in WaPo notes:
Read that last part again: “the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”
Trump Jr. confirmed that he went into the meeting expecting to receive information from the Russian lawyer that could hurt Clinton. That is a breathtaking admission.
The rest of Trump Jr.’s statement is an attempt to minimize the value of what the lawyer actually told him. The outcome of the meeting and its effect on the presidential race is important, of course, yet it is kind of beside the point.
Trump Jr.’s attempt to obtain information from a Russian lawyer that could harm Clinton seems likely to alarm investigators, regardless of whether the effort proved successful.
The only defense, such as it is, from Trump Jr. is that if he did not know who he was meeting that he also did not know the contact was Russian (but since the contact who set up the meeting was likely Russian, odds are he knew the meeting was with a Russian/Russia-connected individual). Nonetheless, there is at least an admission of possible collusion with an outside source for damaging information on the Clinton campaign. At a minimum it is clear that he was willing to continue the meeting to see what she had to say, even once he knew of her nationality. And it also undercuts denials of attempted contacts between Russian representatives and the Trump campaign (and appears to confirm their willingness to receive such information).
Update: A separate WaPo piece details who arranged the meeting:
In an interview Sunday, Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who is friendly with Donald Jr., told The Washington Post that he had arranged the meeting at request of a Russian client and attended with Veselnitskaya.
Goldstone has been active with the Miss Universe pageant and works as a manager for Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is a wealthy Moscow developer who sponsored the pageant in the Russian capital in 2013.
Goldstone would not name the client. Instead, he said that Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss ways that Trump could be helpful on the Magnitsky Act issue should he be elected president.
“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 conversation that he may have in the future?’ ” Goldstone said.