President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., held a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential race on the presumption that she would provide him with damaging information about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obtained by the Russian government.
On June 3, 2016, Trump Jr. received an email from entertainment publicist Rob Goldstone touting potentially damaging information about Clinton promised by Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, son of Russian real estate magnate Aras Agalarov. The elder Agalarov had previous business dealings with President Trump, The New York Times reports.
Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the younger Agalarov wanted to arrange a meeting between him and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, stating that she had damaging information about Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
On July 11, Trump Jr. took to Twitter to release his emails with Goldstone after he was informed by The New York Times that a story about their discussion was imminent.
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"To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016," Trump Jr. said in the tweet. The president's son added that Veselnitskaya "had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act."
The emails indicated that Trump Jr. was given reason to believe that Veselnitskaya would indeed have compromising information about Clinton that had come from the Russian government. The header for the email chain read "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."
"Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting," Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr. "The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."
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Russia does not have a crown prosecutor; Goldstone was reportedly referring to Russian prosecutor general Yury Yakovlevich, an appointee of Russian President Vladimir Putin and confidante of Veselnitskaya.
Goldstone added: "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
"If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. responded.
On June 9, 2016, Trump Jr. met with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York. The meeting was also attended by Goldstone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, who is currently a White House senior adviser.
"It quickly became clear that [Veselnitskaya] had no meaningful information," Trump Jr. said in a statement. "She changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. 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."
On July 11, Veselnitskaya offered her own take on the meeting during an interview.
"I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton," the Russian lawyer told NBC News. "It was never my intention to have that."
Veselnitskaya added: "It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted ... The question that I was asked was as follows: whether I had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the DNC were coming from inappropriate sources."
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Putin's administration conducted a cyber campaign to influence the 2016 election and that Russian hackers had already stolen data from the DNC before Trump Jr.'s meeting with Veselnitskaya. Both the Department of Justice and Congress are currently investigating whether members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia in their influence campaign. Manafort has been a person of interest in those investigations.
On July 24, 2016, Trump Jr. dismissed reports that the Russian government was seeking to undermine Clinton and help his father's campaign.
"It's disgusting," Trump Jr. told CNN 15 days after his meeting with Veselnitskaya. "It's so phony."
Trump Jr. also took aim at any suggestion that Trump campaign members were in any way working with the Russian government, stating: "If we did that ... if my father's campaign did that they'd be calling for people to get the electric chair."