Kremlin: Unaware of Russian Lawyer’s 2016 Contact with Trump Campaign
The Kremlin said Monday it was unaware of a 2016 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior staff and a Russian attorney who promised to give them damaging information about Trump’s challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it does not know the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer and their contacts overseas.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said Sunday that he, Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with the Russian lawyer in June 2016 after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination. Veselnitskaya has said she would share information that could hurt Clinton’s campaign.
But Trump’s son said that “no details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Trump’s son said his father was unaware of the meeting. The get-together was arranged by music publicist Rob Goldstone on behalf of a Moscow client, Azerbaijani singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov, who knew the future president through his 2013 promotion of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
The New York Times first disclosed the meeting Saturday, although Trump’s son told the newspaper it was a meeting about Moscow’s ban on allowing American couples to adopt Russian children. Trump Jr. changed his account Sunday, acknowledging that the Russian lawyer had promised to disclose damaging information about Clinton, but that it was actually a pretext for talking about adoptions.
The meeting with Veselnitskaya is believed to be the first known contact between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian interests in the midst of Trump’s run for the White House that culminated with his victory over Clinton in November.
The newspaper said its information came from three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
Veselnitskaya is known for her attempts to undercut the sanctions against Russian human-rights abusers, U.S. media reports said. Her clients reportedly 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.
President Trump is facing months of investigations about Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to discredit the U.S. election, damage Clinton and help Trump win, a claim he rejected in a meeting with Trump last Friday at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Numerous congressional investigations are underway and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is conducting a probe of the Trump campaign links with Russia and whether Trump possibly obstructed justice when he fired James Comey, the FBI director who was heading the Russia investigation before Mueller took over.
Trump said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he ousted Comey. Trump has called the Russia investigations a “witch hunt” and an excuse by Democrats to account for Clinton’s loss.
Trump has repeatedly denied having links to Russia, while Moscow says it was not behind computer hacks into files at the Democratic National Committee in Washington and the computer of Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. In the weeks before the election, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks released thousands of Podesta’s emails, many of them revealing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic officials to help Clinton clinch the party’s presidential nomination.
Clinton has partly attributed her defeat to the steady disclosure of the emails.