Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that a meeting to obtain information damaging to presidential rival Hillary Clinton was connected to intelligence gathered by the Russian government to help elect his father, according to a report published in The New York Times on Monday.
The Times, citing multiple people with knowledge of the missive, said the email was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist who helped set up the meeting during the 2016 presidential campaign between Trump’s eldest son and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The note reportedly said the information presented during the meeting would come from the Russian government.
In a statement provided to HuffPost, Trump’s newly hired lawyer, Alan Futerfas, confirmed the existence of an email between his client and Goldstone but said it was “much ado about nothing.”
“During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia,” he said in the statement, first provided to The Times. “Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”
Monday’s revelations came after a weekend of intense reporting on the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.
The New York Times first reported on the meeting between Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya on Saturday. Trump Jr. said at the time that the meeting, which was also attended by his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his father’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had centered on the Magnitsky Act. (The 2012 act allowed the U.S. to withhold visas and freeze Russian assets. In retaliation, the Kremlin halted U.S. adoptions of Russian babies.)
But on Sunday, Trump Jr. admitted in a statement that he had met with Veselnitskaya after being told she “might have information helpful to the campaign.”
“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense,” Trump Jr. said. “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
On Twitter, Trump Jr. defended his decision to accept the meeting, saying he “had to listen” when someone approached him about information that could help his father’s campaign.
“Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen,” he wrote. In a separate message, he rejected claims that he provided two different explanations about why he attended the meeting, saying he “simply provided more details.”
But Monday’s revelation sheds new lights on the meeting and is notable for several reasons.
As MSNBC’s Ari Melber noted, the email could be a crucial piece of evidence in any investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. The note could back up assertions from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to influence last year’s election, but it could also indicate that Trump’s inner circle was willing to accept the meeting despite knowing that a foreign government was involved.
Legal experts have said Trump Jr.’s behavior could be illegal, as campaign finance laws prohibit political candidates and their associates from obtaining anything of value to aid their campaign from foreigners. Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday asking for an investigation into the meeting.
“He did in my view violate the prohibition on soliciting a contribution of a foreign national,” Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at Common Cause, told HuffPost’s Marina Fang.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders rejected any claims of collusion involving Trump Jr. She told reporters Monday that the only evidence of impropriety was “the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed.”
“Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election,” Sanders said at an off-camera briefing at the White House. “Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up.”
This article has been updated with added details and a statement from the spokesman for Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.