Donald Trump’s oldest son has told CNN that he, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer last year — the first known meeting of several of the senior-most members of Trump’s team and a Russian national during the campaign.
The New York Times, which first reported the previously undisclosed meeting, says it occurred at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 — two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
“It was a short introductory meeting,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement to CNN. “I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up.”
He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Trump’s representatives did not answer further questions about the meeting.
The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, founded a group purporting to seek the removal of the Russian adoption ban. That ban was put in place by the Russian government as retaliation for a US law known as the Magnitsky Act, which allows the US to withhold visas and freeze the assets of Russians thought to have violated human rights. Veselnitskaya has also sought the repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
Kushner disclosed the meeting with the Russian lawyer in revised documentation that he submitted to obtain a security clearance for his White House job as a senior adviser to the President, his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement.
When Kushner initially filed his forms, he did not list any contacts with foreign government officials, Gorelick said. Kushner then submitted supplemental information saying he had “numerous contacts” with foreign officials, she said.
Gorelick said the additional documentation includes the information “that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said he didn’t know much about the meeting when asked about it on “Fox News Sunday.”
“It was a very short meeting,’ Priebus said. “It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption.”
He added: “Jared Kushner put in his disclosure a little prematurely. He’s since amended it. All of that is disclosed.”
A lawyer for Manafort did not respond to a CNN request for comment about the meeting.
CNN has reached out to Veselnitskaya. She told The New York Times: “Nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign.” And she added, “I have never acted on behalf of the Russian government and have never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”
A spokesman for the President’s legal team told CNN the meeting could have been an effort to create an appearance of inappropriate connections between Trump family members and Russia.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” the spokesman, Mark Corallo, said.