WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump’s eldest son acknowledged today that he met a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign to hear information about his father’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr. tried to brush off the significance of meeting with a foreign lawyer who held out the possibility of dirt on an opponent in the U.S. election. He tweeted sarcastically, “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.”
Trump Jr.’s acknowledgment came as a music publicist told The Associated Press that he set up the meeting on behalf of a client in Moscow named Emin Agalarov, the son of a Moscow-based developer who tried to partner with Trump in a hotel project.
Today, the publicist, Rob Goldstone, said in a statement that the Russian lawyer said she had information about purported illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee that she thought Trump Jr. might find helpful. Goldstone said Trump Jr. agreed to squeeze the meeting into a tight schedule.
Trump Jr.’s tweet is the latest addition to an explanation that has shifted since the meeting in June 2016 was first reported by The New York Times on Saturday.
Over the weekend, Trump Jr. initially omitted any mention of Clinton from his account of the meeting, saying Saturday that the discussion focused on a disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children.
A day later, Trump Jr. acknowledged he was told beforehand that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, might have information “helpful” to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had information about Clinton.
It appeared that Trump Jr. shifted his account of the meeting after being presented with additional information from The Times, which first reported both the discussion and the prospect of negative information about Clinton.
The Kremlin is disavowing knowledge of the Russian lawyer or of the meeting. Veselnitskaya represented the son of a vice president of state-owned Russian Railways in a New York money-laundering case settled in May before a trial.
The meeting was the earliest known private one between key aides to the president and a Russian. Federal and congressional investigators are probing Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians. Trump calls the investigations a “hoax.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
The Times, citing advisers to the White House who were briefed on the discussion, said Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Clinton.
In his statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said he was asked by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to meet someone who might have helpful information for the campaign. He said he was not told the name of the person before the meeting.
Trump Jr. did not identify the acquaintance who arranged the meeting, but Goldstone confirmed to the AP that it was him, representing his client, Agalarov.
Trump appeared in a pop music video with Agalarov in 2013 that featured several Miss Universe contestants. At the time, Trump owned the pageant.
Goldstone’s explanation appears to fit with Trump Jr.’s fuller explanation given Sunday.
Trump Jr. said the attorney claimed during the discussion to have information that “individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee” and supporting Clinton.
“No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” Trump Jr. said. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said his father was unaware of the meeting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today the Kremlin doesn’t know Veselnitskaya and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad.
On Saturday, Trump Jr. had described the same gathering as a “short introductory meeting” about the adoption program. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to U.S. sanctions against Russia after the death in 2009 of an imprisoned lawyer who spoke about a corruption scandal.
He said on Sunday the attorney turned the conversation to the adoption program and he believed that this was the “true agenda.” He said he thought claims about having information helpful to the Trump campaign had been a pretext for the encounter.
“I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office,” Trump Jr. said in the statement.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said only, “The president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”
Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and is not required to disclose his foreign contacts. The newspaper said the meeting was disclosed in recent days to government investigators when Kushner filed a revised version of a form needed to obtain a security clearance. His attorney has previously acknowledged that Kushner’s first security clearance submission was incomplete.
Manafort also recently disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators, the newspaper said.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker and Stephen Braun contributed to this report.