Donald Trump Jr has admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised him damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign. The president's eldest son claimed his father knew nothing of the meeting.
The meeting, which was held shortly after President Trump clinched the Republican nomination on 9 June last year, was also attended by his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Manafort and Kushner only admitted to the meeting recently in confidential government documents, The New York Times reported.
"I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign," Trump Jr said in a statement. "I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance."
ABC News identified the Russian attorney with ties to the Kremlin as Natalia Veselnitskaya.
"We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and were supporting Ms Clinton," Trump Jr continued.
"Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense," he said. "No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
According to his statement, Veselnitskaya then changed the subject and began speaking about the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act. The 2012 bill blocks certain Russian officials from entering the US and using the US banking system. After the bill became law, Russia banned Americans from adopting Russian children, ABC News reported.
"It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting," he said. "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 claims that the meeting lasted about "20 to 30 minutes" and that "there was no further contact of follow-up of any kind".
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president's lawyer, told the Times that "the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting." Trump Jr maintained in his statement that his father did not know of the meeting.
According to the Times, when he was first asked about the meeting on Saturday (8 July), Trump Jr said it was primarily about adoptions and did not mention the possibility for dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr's confirmation of the meeting marks the first time the Trump family have confirmed having a meeting with Russians during the presidential campaign, ABC News noted.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers delivered information stolen from the DNC and the Clinton campaign to WikiLeaks in 2016. WikiLeaks began releasing that material on 22 July.
Trump has rejected the notion that his campaign colluded with the Russians and has placed doubts that Russians were solely responsible for the hacking. On Sunday (9 July), following the president's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump tweeted: "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion...."