New York - Donald Trump’s oldest son Donald Jr and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a lawyer connected to the Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton, a new report from the New York Times says.
Three White House advisers briefed on the meeting, alongside two other sources with knowledge of the meeting, confirmed the news that those members of the Trump campaign were keen on hearing about compromising information on Ms Clinton from the Russian-connected sources.
Mr Trump Jr and Mr Kushner were accompanied by Paul Manafort, who was the campaign manager for Mr Trump at the time. This is the first time that reports have indicated that members of the Trump campaign’s inner circle met with Russian officials during the campaign, though it is unclear if the meeting actually yielded the promised damaging information.
Mr Trump Jr confirmed that the meeting had taken place, but said he had met with the lawyer at the request of a friend. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said in a statement, “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 indicated that he then changed the subject to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists Russians suspected of committing human rights abuses. A statement from the President’s lawyers said that Mr Trump was not aware of the meetings, and was not present at the meetings.
The news comes as a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, expands his investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and after the United States government formally accused Russia of having worked to tip the election in Mr Trump’s favour.
Mr Trump has adamantly said that he was not involved in the Russian meddling, and that it was undertaken solely by the Russian government, or perhaps some other source. He discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week when the two world leaders met for the first time in person as presidents.
A statement from the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said that the discussion had not been around the 2016 election. Ms Veselnitskaya’s clients include a high ranking government official’s son, as well as state-owned businesses.
The meeting was disclosed to government officials recently, after Mr Kushner filed a revised statement noting any contacts he may have had with foreign sources during the campaign. Mr Kushner’s representatives said that he had not mentioned the meeting before because of an error in the paperwork.
The news of the meeting between the Trump staffers has already drawn further scrutiny to the Trump campaign’s Russia dealings. Representative Adam Schiff, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee – one of the panels investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia – said that the revelations mean that he will want to interview the implicated members of the Trump campaign as part of his investigation. A spokesman for Mr Trump's legal team said the President was "not aware of and did not attend" the meeting.