Update: Following publication of The New York Times’ story on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. and White House staff responded to the newspaper on Sunday with new and confusing versions of what happened at that June 2016 meeting with Kremlin–linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.
According to the new narrative, Donald Jr. now admits to setting up the meeting because, he claims, he was promised “damaging information” on Hillary Clinton.
This is what the president’s son told the newspaper:
“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.”
One of the problems with this narrative, however, is that in an interview with The New York Times in March, Donald Jr. denied meeting with any Russians to discuss policy during the campaign. When confronted by the Times about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Jr. said it was about “adoptions.”
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus seemed to contradict Donald Jr.’s initial statements, saying, “Talking about issues of foreign policy, issues related to our place in the world, issues important to the American people like adoption is something that is not unusual.”
Then, Donald Jr. and White House staff switched gears and said the purpose of the meeting was to get campaign dirt on Clinton. President Trump’s lawyer, for what it’s worth, said on Sunday that Donald Trump was “not aware” of the meeting.
In case you’re having trouble following along, as I am, this tweet sums up nicely the chronology:
Original post continues here:
Donald Trump Jr. has been busy lately tweeting attacks on the left and amateurish videos depicting his draft–dodging father shooting down the CNN logo with a jet fighter. Maybe it’s because he knew this story was about to drop.
The slow drip of the Trump campaign’s links to Russia continues with new revelations by The New York Times that Trump Jr., Trump son–in–law and adviser Jared Kushner, and lobbyist and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with an attorney linked to the Kremlin at Trump Tower two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president.
But Team Trump appears to have had collective amnesia about that meeting when previously asked about possible contacts with Russian officials. This includes Kushner, who did not disclose the meeting initially on his security clearance forms, although he did when providing updates to that that form.
There appears to have been good reason to hide it.
According to the investigation, Trump’s inner circle met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who spearheads Vladimir Putin’s campaign against the U.S. Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan bill passed in 2012 that levied sanctions against Russian officials in retaliation for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison in 2009. The newspaper said it was “the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign.”
Donald Jr. allegedly arranged the meeting, which he said was to discuss adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents, a program that Putin banned in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, which seized the assets of 44 Russian nationals and barred them from entry into the U.S.
President Trump’s lawyer claimed the meeting was a setup by Democratic operators.
The story notes that part of Putin’s retaliation against the Magnitsky Act was to blacklist U.S. citizens, among them former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted high–profile Russian arms and drugs dealers. Trump fired Bharara last March.
According to the Times:
A quick internet search reveals Ms. Veselnitskaya as a formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda. Most notable is her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which provoked a Cold War-style, tit-for-tat row with the Kremlin when President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012.
Last March, the newspaper asked Donald Jr. if he had ever discussed policy related to Russia with Russian nationals while he worked for his father’s campaign. His answer was, “A hundred percent no.”
Also curious is the fact that despite having allegedly arranged the meeting at Trump Tower, Donald Jr. now claims that he was asked to attend “by an acquaintance” and he was unaware at the time whom he was meeting with.
The problem with that statement, however, is that Manafort has already spoken to congressional investigators about Trump Jr.’s role in organizing the meeting, the Times reported.