WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s eldest son changed his account over the weekend of a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, saying Sunday that the woman told him she had information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.
A statement from Donald Trump Jr. one day earlier made no mention of Clinton. In his initial depiction of the meeting last June, the president’s son said the discussion focused on a disbanded program that used to allow American adoptions of Russian children.
It appeared that Trump Jr. shifted his account of the meeting after being presented with additional information from The New York Times, which first reported both the discussion and the prospect of negative information about Clinton.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, is disavowing knowledge of the Russian lawyer, or any meeting between Trump senior staff and the woman.
The meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya is the earliest known private meeting between key aides to the president and a Russian. Federal and congressional investigators are probing whether Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election, investigations the president has called a “hoax.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
The Times, citing advisers to the White House who were briefed on the discussion, said Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Clinton.
In his statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said he was asked by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to have a meeting with a person he was told might have information that would be “helpful” to the Trump campaign. He said he was not told the name of the person ahead of the meeting.
Trump Jr. said the attorney claimed during the discussion to have information that “individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee” and supporting Clinton.
“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” Trump Jr. said. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said his father was unaware of the meeting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that the Kremlin is unaware of a meeting between Trump’s senior staff and a Russian lawyer, that it doesn’t know who Veselnitskaya is, and that it “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad.
On Saturday, Trump Jr. had described the same gathering as a “short introductory meeting” during which the three discussed a program that used to allow U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children. Russia ended the adoptions in response to American sanctions brought against the nation following the 2009 death of an imprisoned lawyer who spoke about a corruption scandal.
He said on Sunday that the attorney turned the conversation to the adoption of Russian children, and that he believed that this was the “true agenda” of the meeting and that claims about having information helpful to the Trump campaign had been a pretext for the encounter.
“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,” Trump Jr. said in the statement.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said only, “The president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and is not required to disclose his foreign contacts. The newspaper said the meeting was disclosed in recent days to government investigators when Kushner filed a revised version of a form needed to obtain a security clearance. His attorney has previously acknowledged that Kushner’s first security clearance submission was incomplete.
Manafort also recently disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators, the newspaper said.
The newspaper said Veselnitskaya is known for her attempts to undercut the sanctions against Russian human rights abusers. The Times also said her clients include state-owned businesses and the son of a senior government official whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting.