‘Trump aides wanted dirt on Clinton so badly’: Russian lawyer recalls meeting US president’s son
Natalia Veselnitskaya spoke to NBC after New York Times reported US president’s son met her despite knowing she was part of Kremlin bid to aid campaign
A Russian lawyer said she was summoned to Trump Tower during last year’s presidential campaign to meet Donald Trump Jnr and asked whether she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, during an interview aired on Tuesday by NBC’s Today show.
Natalia Veselnitskaya made her appearance the day after The New York Times reported Trump Jnr had been made aware she was part of a Russian government bid to aid his father’s presidential campaign.
Veselnitskaya told NBC she received a phone call from a man she did not know and was told to meet Trump Jnr. However, she said she did not have information about the Clinton campaign and had never worked for the Russian government.
“All I knew was that Donald Trump Jnr was willing to meet me,” she said through a translator. “It’s quite possible that maybe they were looking for information [about Clinton]. They wanted it so badly.”
The interview was Veselnitskaya’s first public comment since Donald Trump Jnr acknowledged he made time for the meeting hoping to get information on Clinton, his father’s Democratic presidential opponent.
The president’s son has said the meeting was arranged by an acquaintance he knew through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant Trump held in Moscow.
Yesterday, Trump Jnr tweeted: “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!”
On Monday, he tweeted: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear information about an opponent ... went nowhere but had to listen.”
In the NBC interview, Veselnitskaya suggested she did not initiate the meeting; she said she was lobbying against US sanctions affecting Moscow but was not acting on the Kremlin’s behalf.
She said Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, also attended the meeting but left after a few minutes. Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chairman, was there too but never took part and spent much of the meeting on his phone, she said. It was not clear from the NBC report who in the meeting asked her for information about Clinton.
The circumstances surrounding the meeting, and a report by the Times on Monday that Trump Jnr was told ahead of time the Russian government was the source of damaging information on Clinton, have fuelled new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Moscow, which are the subject of federal and congressional investigations.
Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
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. https://t.co/ccUjL1KDEa
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 10, 2017
The Times reported Trump Jnr, who was a key campaign adviser to his father, was told the Russian government was behind the information about Clinton in an email from music publicist Rob Goldstone. The Times cited three unnamed people with knowledge of the email.
In a statement, Trump Jnr’s New York-based lawyer Alan Futerfas called the Times’ report “much ado about nothing,” although he acknowledged his client had received an email from Goldstone to set up a meeting with the purpose of passing along damaging information about Clinton. His statement did not dispute the Times’ report.
“The bottom line is that Don Jnr did nothing wrong,” Futerfas said in the statement.
Trump Jnr also said on Twitter he was willing to work with the Senate intelligence committee, one of the panels investigating possible campaign collusion, “to pass on what I know”.
Lawmakers on the committee from both parties said they indeed wanted to talk with the president’s son.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff told CNN the report, if true, represented “an offer by the Russian government to help interfere in the American election on behalf of one of the candidates” and the first time “the inner circle of the Trump family ... have direct contact with the Russians promising [information]”.
Republican Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the panel “needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting.”
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday the Kremlin does not know Veselnitskaya and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad.