'This Borders on Treason': Unpacking Donald Trump Jr.'s Admission About Meeting with Russian Lawyer
In a stunning admission that some have said points to treason by members of the Trump campaign, Donald Trump, Jr. has acknowledged that he met with a lawyer connected to the Russian government in June 2016 after she promised damaging information on his father’s presidential campaign rival, Hillary Clinton.
President Trump‘s eldest son said in a statement Sunday he was told before their meeting at Trump Tower that the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, would provide “information helpful to the campaign.”
Veselnitskaya said “she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” Trump Jr. said in the statement.
The comments came after The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Clinton before he agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya.
Trump Jr.’s admission contradicted his earlier account of the meeting, which he initially claimed was focused on American adoptions of Russian children. A statement Trump Jr. released on Saturday — before the Times story was published — did not mention Clinton at all.
Trump Jr. also confirmed the Times‘ reporting that the meeting was attended by then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
It is unclear if Veselnitskaya actually provided any compromising information on the Clinton campaign. Trump Jr. said “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.”
“It became clear to me that [the adoption issue] was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” he added.
Veselnitskaya, meanwhile, told the Times that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed at the meeting. She said she “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government,” the newspaper reported.
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Trump Jr.’s statements raise new questions in the continued U.S. investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, including potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The meeting, which took place on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination, is the earliest known private meeting between members of the president’s inner circle and a Russian, according to the Times.
Newsweek notes that Trump Jr.’s admission contradicts the repeated claims by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that no one from Trump’s campaign had any contact with Russians or Russian officials.
Facing criticism over his shifting accounts of the meeting, Trump Jr. took to Twitter on Monday to issue a denial — and to sarcastically say that he’s not the only person in the history of American campaigning to “ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent.”
Some critics fired back that actually, he may well be the first person to have such a meeting with a Russian.
“No. You’re just the first person who met with RUSSIA to CONSPIRE AGAINST OUR ELECTION PROCESS!!! You committed treason,” tweeted Huffington Post political blogger Kelly Scaletta.
Republican attorney and former White House ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter has said on Twitter and in an interview with MSNBC that Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer “borders on treason.”
“This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States,” he said Sunday on MSNBC, adding that the Bush administration would never have allowed such a meeting.
“We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason,” Painter said.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins also voiced her concerns about Trump Jr.’s meeting, reportedly telling Bloomberg’s Steven Dennis that the president’s son should be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.