Donald Trump Jr. was told before his meeting with a Russian lawyer that the damaging information promised about Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight MORE was part of a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump's presidential campaign, according to a New York Times report.
Rob Goldstone, the publicist who set up the June 2016 meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer, told Trump Jr. in an email that the potential information was coming from the Russian government in an attempt to aid his father, three people with knowledge of the message told The New York Times.
Goldstone told the newspaper that he was not aware of any connection with the Kremlin at the time, saying "never, never ever."
Trump Jr.'s newly appointed lawyer dismissed the Times's report in a statement to the newspaper.
”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,” Alan Futerfas told the newspaper
“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.”
Several congressional panels, along with special counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election, including possible links between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
The meeting touches on a question at the heart of those investigations: whether Trump associates colluded with Russian officials or representatives.
Investigators are likely to explore the possibility that Trump Jr. tried to obtain damaging information about Clinton from Kremlin associates. Then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE’s son-in-law and now a senior White House adviser, were also present for at least part of the meeting, according to reports.
Trump Jr. said in a Sunday statement that he had met with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at the request of an acquaintance but denied that he received any information on Clinton at that time.
“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.
“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 they then talked about 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,” Trump Jr. told the paper.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the campaign never followed up with Veselnitskaya after the meeting.
“Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election,” Sanders said. “Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up.”
But when first confronted by The New York Times, which first reported the meeting on Saturday, Trump Jr. did not mention it had anything to do with Clinton.
He then tweeted Monday that the meeting "went nowhere but had to listen."
Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen. https://t.co/ccUjL1KDEa— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 10, 2017
The White House defended the actions of Trump’s eldest son, who said he would be “happy” to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the meeting.
Those at the top of the campaign say they never heard about the meeting because it was inconsequential. The Kremlin has also denied knowledge of the meeting.
With his father in the White House, Trump Jr. is one of three people running the family’s real estate business. But he advised Trump during the campaign and appeared on cable television as a surrogate.