President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it told The New York Times on Sunday.
The newspaper first reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday.
The meeting was also attended by Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Manafort and Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.
The meeting, which took place at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.
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.
It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Clinton, but the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.
In a statement on Sunday, Donald Trump Jr. said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance.
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “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 said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and 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.
“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's son said.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Lawyers and spokesmen for Kushner and Manafort did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said he asked Manafort and Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.
Veselnitskaya said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed during the meeting.
She added that she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
Clinton has repeatedly blamed the Russian hacking for her election loss. In December, Clinton claimed that Putin ordered hacking attacks against her campaign and the Democratic National Committee “because he has a personal beef against me”.
She has also accused former FBI Director James Comey for renewing the probe into her use of a private email server of playing a role in her loss.