New questions are arising about President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia after his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., admitted to having met a Russian lawyer last year in search of damaging information about Hillary Clinton. According to a New York Times report, Trump Jr. had a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, a few weeks before his father won the Republican presidential nomination. Others present at the meeting included Trump’s brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was President Trump’s campaign manager at the time. According to a recent Washington Post report, the meeting was organized by Rob Goldstone, a well-known music publicist and the son of an Azerbaijani-Russian with close ties to the Trump family.
Natalia Veselnitskaya is closely tied to the Kremlin and was married to the former Minister of Transport in Moscow. Her client portfolio includes prominent state-owned Russian businesses.
In his statement to The Times, Trump Jr. stated that he met the Russian lawyer in a “short introductory” meeting with the aim of adopting a program Putin had terminated to retaliate against the Magnitsky Act. The Act blacklisted Russians known to have engaged in human rights abuses. In the statement, Trump did not mention anything about Clinton.
After the story was published, Trump issued a second statement in which he stated that the Russian lawyer had talked about having information on people connected to Russia who were supporting Clinton and funding the DNC. Trump further said that Vaselnitskaya’s statements seemed ambiguous and made no sense.
“It was clear that the lawyer didn’t have any meaningful information,” Trump said in his second statement.
Notably, Trump didn’t talk about the Magnitsky Act or adoption program this time around.
The big question, according to the experts, is not why Trump sought for damaging information about Clinton but why he turned to a Russian lawyer to get it. Andrew Wright, a Savannah Law School associate professor calls the admissions by Trump Jr. “pretty staggering.” The admissions raises more questions regarding whether President Trump’s campaign worked with Russia to change the 2016 election in his favor. This is an issue that has dogged the Trump administration since he took office and has led to counterintelligence investigation by FBI and many congressional inquiries.
Experts maintain that it may not be easy to ascertain whether Trump colluded with Russia without first establishing intent. Did members of Trump’s campaign, or the president, work with Russian nationals knowingly to negatively affect Clinton’s candidacy in their favor? Media reports have speculated on a possible collusion between Trump and Russian operatives but these latest developments could be an indication of intent.
Trump Jr.’s claim that he didn’t get or use any significant information from the meeting is not relevant because what matters, according to Bob Bauer who is a former White House counsel in the Obama administration, is the fact that the president’s son admits that a meeting was arranged to dig for this information. Details expected to emerge in the next few months will be important in determining if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and how far did the collusion go.