U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin two weeks after his father clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the newspaper said, citing confidential government records and interviews.
While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Trump’s inner circle during the campaign.
It is also the first time that his son, Donald Trump Jr., is known to have been involved in such a meeting.
Representatives of both Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting. Trump's son described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program. The statement did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Trump.
Trump initially rejected the CIA’s assessment that Russia carried out cyberattacks during the election campaign in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton's candidacy.
He later accepted the intelligence assessment but has rejected any direct involvement in the Russian hacking.
A special prosecutor and congressional committees are now investigating whether Trump's campaign associates colluded with Russians.
According to The New York Times, the Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law enraged Russian President Vladimir Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
Veselnitskaya, according to the report, is married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting.
In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said, “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
He added, “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday that Trump had confronted Putin about Moscow's election meddling during a face-to-face meeting in Germany.
Putin denied Russian involvement, Tillerson said, but Trump “pressed” him on the matter “on more than one occasion.”