Report: Trump Son Informed Russia Meeting Was Effort To Aid His Father's Campaign
Updated at 9:45 p.m. ET
Donald Trump Jr. was informed ahead of a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer that material damaging to Hillary Clinton that he was offered was "part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy," the New York Times reported Monday evening.
The latest bombshell report comes after the White House spent Monday defending President Trump's eldest son following another Times report that the meeting last summer was intended to get damaging information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said he didn't know who he was meeting with beforehand, but had been told the person "might have information helpful to the campaign." He said the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya yielded no useful details.
However, the latest report again contradicts that statement, with the Times reporting that publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting, told Trump Jr. in an email "that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information," though it doesn't "elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign" and there's "no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails."
The meeting was also attended by Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — who would later briefly serve as campaign manager — and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who now serves as a White House senior adviser.
"Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday.
"The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed," Sanders added during the daily press briefing, which was not televised.
After dismissing such a meeting as routine opposition research gathering that typically happens during campaigns — although typically such meetings wouldn't happen with foreign government — Trump Jr. also tweeted Monday that he would be happy to "pass on what I know" to Senate and House Intelligence Committees investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That statement came after Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said the president's son needs to speak to the committee.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters at the Capitol Monday that he "absolutely" wanted to talk to Trump's son, calling it part of a "continuing pattern we've seen since the election of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians."
"If I was a campaign manager and had been contacted by what may be an agent of a foreign power and was told that agent may have damaging information about a potential candidate, I think I would remember that meeting," Warner said. "And I think it's also a little strange, as a candidate, if my son or son-in-law met with an official or an agent of a foreign power I think I'd probably want to hear about that information."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the president's son on CNN Monday morning, emphasizing that there was "no action taken. Nothing" that resulted from the meeting.
"Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn't even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting," Conway said. "He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe Pageant." That contact was music publicist Rob Goldstone, who told the Washington Post that he had arranged the gathering.
Politico reported earlier Monday that Trump Jr.'s actions and statements "put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States," and he, Manafort and Kushner "may have also exposed themselves to future blackmail threats," according to legal experts.
Trump Jr. has hired New York attorney Alan Futerfas to represent himself in matters regarding the Russia investigations, Reuters reported on Monday. The Daily Caller reported that Futerfas has previously represented Nikita Kuzmin, a Russian national who was found guilty of creating a malware virus that infected over 40,000 U.S. computers, including ones at NASA.
"In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia," Fterfas told the Times following the Monday evening story. "Don Jr.'s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed."
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