Members of President Trump’s family reportedly met with a lawyer linked with the Kremlin in June of last year — although the Trump team believes the meeting may have been sought as part of an effort to create the impression of an improper connection between Trump’s team and Russia.
The New York Times reported late Saturday that Donald Trump Jr., along with then-campaign chair Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, met with a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin at Trump Tower.
The Times reported that the meeting occurred on June 9, and it notes that this is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and a member of Trump’s inner circle. Reps for Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting to the Times but described it as primarily about an adoption program.
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has reportedly been fighting the Magnitsky Act — an American law that blacklists Russian human rights abusers and triggered Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt American adoptions of Russian children.
In a statement to the Times, Trump Jr. said the “short” meeting involved discussion of “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.”
Circa also reported that the meeting was short, lasting only 20 minutes. The outlet also reported that the president’s legal team believe the meeting may have been part of an election-year opposition effort to create the appearance of “improper connections” between Trump and Russia.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team, told Circa:
We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for. Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the President and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier.
“These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” he added.
The Times reports that the meeting was not disclosed until recently, when Kushner filed a revised version of a form to obtain a security clearance. Kushner’s advisers described the omission as an error.
Kushner’s lawyer told the Times in a statement.:
He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.
The Times notes that Trump Jr. does not have to disclose foreign contacts as he does not serve in the administration, nor does he have a security clearance. The story claims that the lawyer is a “formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda.”