The Russian lawyer whom Donald Trump Jr. hosted during his infamous meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 — Natalia Veselnitskaya — has insisted she is not Kremlin spy. The Trump campaign’s allies bought this assertion hook, line, and sinker.
But according to newly-released emails from a Russian watchdog group, as well as Veselnitskaya’s own admission in a forthcoming television interview, she has been an informant for the Russian government for years.
“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said in an interview with NBC News to be broadcast on Friday, according to the New York Times. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”
The New York Times also reported that per emails obtained by Dossier, a Russian government watchdog group established by Russian exile and Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, she “worked hand in glove with Russia’s chief legal office to thwart a Justice Department civil fraud case against a well-connected Russian firm.” Veselnitskaya, asked about the emails in the NBC interview, said she was hacked.
In June, Donald Trump Jr., as well as senior adviser Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, hosted a group that included Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower, the headquarters of Donald Trump Sr.’s presidential campaign.
Trump Jr. had received an email promising “opposition research” on Hillary Clinton from casual acquaintance Rob Goldstone, a publicist who had traveled to Russia 18 times, including a trip right before the Trump Tower meeting. Goldstone said that Veselnitskaya was “the Russian government attorney” and “part of Russia and its Government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and she wanted to meet with him. Trump Jr.’s famous response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Trump Jr. insisted that the meeting was inconsequential and merely about Russian adoption. It’s still unknown what exactly Trump Jr. discussed at the meeting, even though emails later obtained by CNN indicate that it was more than just a simple policy discussion about adoption policy.
Russian court documents reported on by Reuters previously showed that Veselnitskaya represented the FSB, Russia’s official spy agency, as a client for almost a decade. But Friday’s revelation was the first time Veselnitskaya herself admitted she was an informant.
Veselnitskaya has attempted to separate herself from the Kremlin after news of the Trump Tower meeting broke. In an interview with NBC News in July 2017, she said she did “not represent anyone other than myself” in the meeting and denied that she had any connection at all to the Kremlin.
In November, she told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a statement, “I operate independently of any governmental bodies.”
“The Democratic block insists that I was some kind of an agent of the Kremlin, spy, and so forth, a Kremlin lawyer,” she later told Fox News in January 2018. Fox News also used that interview to attempt to dismiss the Steele memo.
Conservative media bought those claims as a defense of Trump’s culpability in what could have been evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Breitbart said that Veselnitskaya’s claims “[poured] cold water on the latest attempts to tie the Trump campaign to an alleged Russia conspiracy.”
Fox News reported that Don Jr.’s lawyer Alan Futerfas said that Veselnitskaya was “not a government official.” He brushed the meeting off as inconsequential, and a simple discussion of U.S. blacklist law. The Russians did bring up a major point of contention between the United States and Russia, the Magnitsky Act which prevented key Russians linked to human rights abuses from acting freely within the United States in response to Russia’s military action in Ukraine, repeal of which was a key demand the of the Putin regime.
“In my view, this is much ado about nothing,” Futerfas said in a separate written statement, according to Fox News.
Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy theory factory that has White House press credentials, dubbed the claims “another nothingburger.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump Jr. “did not collude with anybody to influence the election.”
Donald Trump Jr., recently back from a media vacation following the headlines he earned from the Trump Tower meeting news, has yet to tweet about this new revelation about Veselnitskaya, even though he spent most of Friday morning tweeting and retweeting adulatory things about his father’s foreign policy accomplishments and deriding the media for ignoring them.