On Sunday, President Donald Trump’s eldest son confessed to the New York Times that a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin had offered him compromising information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The admission from Donald Trump, Jr. came just hours after a series of tweets in which the president defended his warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and muddied the clear evidence that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.
According to the Times, multiple administration sources confirmed that a meeting took place between the Russian lawyer, Don Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Don Jr. then confirmed the story in a statement to the paper but downplayed its significance, saying the lawyer “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,” said the statement. “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Nevertheless, the meeting does not look good for Trump and his circle.
Just a few months ago, Vice President Mike Pence was repeatedly denying that anyone from the campaign had made contact with Russian officials. Subsequent reports have made clear that this could not be further from the truth; several high-level campaign officials met with Kremlin-linked Russians on numerous occasions. And now the president’s own son is admitting that he was offered dirt on the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee in one of those meetings.
The disclosure is especially striking because it came days after Trump met personally with Putin and made clear that he has no intention of retaliating against Russia for its attack on the American electoral system.
UPDATE: Sunday afternoon, the Washington Post confirmed that the acquaintance of Trump, Jr.’s who set up the meeting was Rob Goldstone, a music publicist. Goldstone confirmed that he set up the meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskay, to see if there were ways then-candidate Donald Trump could help roll back the Magnitsky Act were he to be elected President.
The Magnitsky Act, passed in 2012, punished Russian officials responsible for the death of a Russian lawyer, Sergie Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison after investigating tax fraud involving those officials. It continues to hold Russian officials accountable for reports of human rights violations and retaliation against people who would expose illegal actions they carry out.