Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya denied having worked for the Russian government
Veselnitskaya gave a vague explanation of why Trump Jr. thought she had damaging information
The Russian lawyer embroiled in controversy over her meeting with Donald Trump Jr. last year denied Tuesday that she’s worked for the Russian government.
“When it was suggested that I meet with Donald Trump Jr., I met him in a private situation, it was a private meeting, not related at all to the fact that he was the son of the candidate,” Natalia Veselnitskaya told CNN’s Matthew Chance.
But Veselnitskaya, interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show, added that Trump Jr. and others at the meeting wanted damaging information about Hillary Clinton “so badly.”
Veselnitskaya was asked specifically how the Trump aides that attended the meeting – including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort – had gotten the impression that she had potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
“It’s quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information, they wanted it so badly,” Veselnitskaya said through a translator to NBC.
She described the meeting in some detail, saying she “never knew” who else would attend the meeting, but was met by Trump Jr. and Manafort.
“All I knew was that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. was willing to meet with me. I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for only the first seven to 10 minutes. And then, he stood up and left the room. It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.”
She continued, “The other individual who was at the same meeting, was always looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the information. That was Mr. Manafort.”
Veselnitskaya was also asked point blank if she had ever worked for the Russian government.
“Nyet (no),” she answered.
Veselnitskaya insists she was lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, which imposed a variety of sanctions on Russians suspected of human rights abuses.
“Donald Trump Jr., who, having listened to my story, did not understand, based on our conversation how he could help me,” she told CNN.
Trump Jr.’s account of the meeting has shifted in recent days as he’s been presented with new reporting by The New York Times. When the paper first reported on the meeting between him and Veselnitskaya – but not about the promise of information about Democrats – he said it was a “short, introductory meeting” about adoption.
But on Sunday, when the Times – citing three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it – reported about the lawyer offering to provide information about the Democratic National Committee before he took the meeting, he acknowledged that Democrats and Hillary Clinton were discussed. He said the lawyer had “no meaningful information” to offer him, adding that he was not told her name prior to the meeting.
On Monday, the Times reported that an email sent to Trump Jr. stated that Veselnitskaya had “compromising” information about Clinton as “part of a Russian government effort” to help the Trump campaign. Citing three people with knowledge of the email, the Times reported that Rob Goldstone, who connected Trump Jr. with the Russian lawyer, sent the email to Trump Jr. pointing to the Russian government as a source of potential information that could damage Clinton.
The story that Trump Jr. was offered potential information from the Russian government to aide his father’s campaign came after months of staunch denials from President Trump that his campaign had a connection to Russia.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., said in a statement following the story that it was “much ado about nothing.” The statement called the period of May to early June 2016 “an intensely busy time” for Trump Jr. The statement said Goldstone had emailed Trump’s son about alleged wrongdoing from Clinton regarding Russia.