WASHINGTON • Two weeks after Mr Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to the New York Times (NYT).
The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Mr Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Mr Paul Manafort, as well as Mr Trump's son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.
While United States President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9 last year is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of his inner circle during the campaign.
It is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr is known to have been involved in such a meeting. Representatives of Mr Trump Jr and Mr Kushner confirmed the meeting after NYT approached them with information about it.
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In a statement, Mr Trump Jr described the meeting as primarily about an adoption programme.
The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Ms Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multi-pronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, a US law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers.
The law so enraged Russia President Vladimir Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children. The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Act.
NO CAMPAIGN FOCUS
We primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow-up.
MR DONALD TRUMP JR
Ms Veselnitskaya's campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit its namesake, Mr Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr Putin's rule.
Ms Veselnitskaya was formerly married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official's son, whose company was under investigation in the US at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a former senior law enforcement official.
In his statement, Mr Trump Jr said: "It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow-up."
Late Saturday, Mr Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the President's lawyer, issued a statement implying that the meeting was a set-up. Ms Veselnitskaya and the translator who accompanied her "misrepresented who they were", it said.
Ms Veselnitskaya said the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the Magnitsky Act and the adoption issue. "Nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign," she said.
The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. Mr Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts.