The lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other top Trump campaign officials last June said Tuesday that she has no connection to the Russian government.
Natalia Veselnitskaya was interviewed by NBC reporter Keir Simmons in Moscow about the meeting reported by the New York Times. The newspaper reported Trump Jr. took the meeting with the impression that he would get compromising information about Hillary Clinton. The Times also described her as "Kremlin-connected."
"Have you ever worked for the Russian government? Do you have connections to the Russian government?" Simmons asked.
"No," she said.
The Times reported Monday that Trump Jr. was informed in an email ahead of the meeting that the Clinton material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy:
The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.
Mr. Goldstone's message, as described to the New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.
There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.
Mr. Goldstone represents the Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father was President Trump's business partner in bringing the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. In an interview Monday, Mr. Goldstone said he was asked by Mr. Agalarov to set up the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
In the interview, he said it was his understanding that Ms. Veselnitskaya was simply a "private citizen" for whom Mr. Agalarov wanted to do a favor. He also said he did not know whether Mr. Agalarov's father, Aras Agalarov, a Moscow real estate tycoon known to be close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was involved. The elder Mr. Agalarov and the younger Mr. Trump worked together to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow, but the project never got off the ground.
Veselnitskaya said she was there to lobby against U.S. legislation that imposes sanctions on Russian individuals. Trump Jr. said she was there specifically to argue against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists Russians suspected of human rights abuses.
She said she got a phone call from a man she did not know and was invited to Trump Tower, where the Trump team wanted information that she did not have about the Clinton campaign.
She also summarized her recollections of the meeting, which also included Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
"I never knew who else would be attending [the] meeting," Veselnitskaya said through a translator. "All I knew [is] 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 probably 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."
"And the other individual who was at the same meeting was always looking at his phone," she added. "He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. [Paul] Manafort."
"The impression, it appears that they were going to be told some information that you had about the DNC," Simmons said. "How did they get that impression?"
"It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information. They wanted it so badly," she said.