WASHINGTON — A Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said a meeting between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner underscores the need for continuing investigations into possible campaign collusion, while calling on the president’s son to come testify before lawmakers.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trump Jr., Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose clients have included Russian government entities and relatives, two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. The campaign was reportedly promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton in advance of the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower.
Veselnitskaya is an ardent lobbyist for repeal of human-rights sanctions against the Kremlin passed by Congress after the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who uncovered massive Kremlin fraud and corruption and died behind bars at age 37. Opponents of the sanctions point to Russia’s retaliation — freezing the adoption of Russian children by American parents — as reason for lifting the punitive measures against the Kremlin.
The Washington Post reported today that the meeting was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone at the request of pop star Emin Agalarov, whose Kremlin-connected family sponsored President Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Russia in 2013. Trump and the Agalarovs signed a Moscow hotel deal after the pageant that hasn’t advanced since Trump began his White House run. Trump also appeared in a music video for Emin Agalarov in 2013.
“The lawyer had apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal campaign contributions to the DNC which she believed Mr. Trump Jr. might find important,” Goldstone said in a statement, adding Veselnitskaya made “a few very general remarks” about campaign funding before ripping into the Magnitsky Act.
Trump Jr. issued a statement saying he didn’t know he would be meeting with Veselnitskaya before the scheduled sit-down. “I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance,” he said.
“It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. (The lawyer) then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act,” Trump Jr. continued. “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.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said today that the committee “needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting.”
“Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know,” tweeted Trump Jr., along with: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen.”
The NYT then released another story this evening alleging that Trump Jr. received an email from Goldstone before the Veselnitskaya meeting describing it as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s candidacy with compromising information about Clinton provided by the Russian government.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), author of the Magnitsky Act, said on CNN that Veselnitskaya has “tried to discredit Mr. Magnitsky, putting resources into misinformation, lies about Mr. Magnitsky and how he was arrested, tortured and killed by the Russians… there’s no question that she was working on behalf of the Kremlin, on behalf of Mr. Putin.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters on Capitol Hill today that the reports represented “the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior level members of the Trump campaign meeting Russians to try to obtain information that might hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”
“It’s also a continuing pattern that we have seen since the election, of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials, who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians,” he said. “Only when they are then presented with evidence, they have to recant and acknowledge those kinds of meetings. It is why we’ve got to continue this investigation.”
With new revelations on a weekly basis, the senator added, “if there’s no ‘there’ there, why aren’t more of these people coming clean?”
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today that she believed President Trump found out about the meeting “in the last couple of days, is my understanding.”
“I mean, I’ve been on several campaigns and people call offering information. As I know many of you receive similar calls of people offering information. Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up,” she said.
“…I don’t know of any other meetings with Don Jr., but I also haven’t had an extensive conversation with him.”
Stuart Stevens, head strategist for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign who also worked on George W. Bush’s and Bob Dole’s campaigns, tweeted, “When Gore campaign was sent Bush debate brief book, they called FBI. If foreign interests offer you info on former SOS, you call the FBI.”
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) told CNN that he “probably would have done the same thing” as Trump Jr. — “I mean, it’s opposition research.”
“You know, I look back over my own career. We have sat down with some meetings I kind of wished I would have done more vetting in the future, and we have, and it’s a learning process,” Yoho said. “But, no, again, I don’t think it was inappropriate for what he did. If you have got information about an opponent running against you, wouldn’t you want that information to vet it, to see if it’s real information and then to use it accordingly? You can’t do that if you don’t have the initial meeting.”
“So, again, I think what he did for the moment he did it at that time was appropriate.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Trump Jr.’s “clear acknowledgement of the reason for [the meeting] is bombshell evidence of conspiracy and criminal intent because he went to that meeting for a purpose, and that purpose was seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton, potentially in violation of the law.”
“And that would be 18 United States code 1030, which is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, among other statutes,” the Judiciary Committee member told MSNBC. “There are a variety of other statutes that might cover it — but an agreement to violate the law, even if somebody doesn’t know all the actions that are going to be taken, is a conspiracy.”