Donald Trump Jr may have met Russian lawyer because he wanted damaging Clinton leaks 'so badly', says lawyer

The President's eldest son has dismissed the controversy as a 'big yawn'

Jon Sharman
New York
,Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 11 July 2017 14:30 BST
Russian lawyer says Trump Jr 'badly' wanted dirt on Clintons

The Russian lawyer at the centre of mounting controversy after she met with Donald Trump Jr has denied she ever possessed "damaging or sensitive" information about Hillary Clinton.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said "all I knew [was] that Mr Donald Trump Jr was willing to meet with me" and that she intended to discuss US sanctions on Russia under the Magnitsky Act.

Asked how Mr Trump had the impression she might have information on Ms Clinton, she told NBC News: "It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information. They wanted it so badly.

"I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that."

Mr Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, attended the meeting last summer but left after a few minutes, while then campaign manager Paul Manafort looked at his phone and played no active part, she added.

Ms Veselnitskaya denied that she worked for, or had connections with, the Russian government. Asked if she had ever done so, she replied: "Nyet."

Trump Jr 'potentially admitted a crime' in statement on Russia meeting

Yet, much about Ms Veselnitskaya remains unclear. The Associated Press said Ms Veselnitskaya, who was once married to a deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, was “a largely unknown figure until” she began to represent the son of a Russian official in a major money-laundering trial.

It said her company, Kamerton Consulting, defended Denis Katsyv, the son of a vice-president of state-owned Russian Railways who was charged with money-laundering in the United States over a case tied to a massive Russian tax-fraud scheme. The case against Mr Katsyv’s company, Prevezon, was settled in New York in May for some $6m, three days before it was to go to trial.

The news agency said US investigators suspect the Cyprus-registered company, bought New York City property with some of the proceeds from a $230m Russian tax-fraud scheme brought to light by a Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer with investment advisory Hermitage Capital, who later died in prison. The US passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to target those Russians allegedly behind Mr Magnitsky’s death.

The act has reportedly been a source of deep concern to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who responded by ending American adoptions of Russian children, and Ms Veselnitskaya has been leading the effort in the US to have the act overturned. As part of those efforts, she reportedly hired investigators from GPS Fusion, a consultancy firm that helped dig up opposition research on Donald Trump.

Initially, the firm was paid for by Mr Trump's Republican rivals, but after he secured the Republican nomination, financial backers of Ms Clinton carried out paying for its services.

In the summer of 2016, GPS Fusion retained the services of former British spy, Christopher Steele, who left MI6's Russia desk to establish his own consulting firm, Orbis. Mr Steele helped collect a large amount of unverified and wild allegations about Mr Trump. Among that information, which was later shared with US intelligence and senior politicians, among them then President Barack Obama, was the suggestion Mr Trump had been compromised by Russia’s FSB spy agency during a trip to Moscow in 2013.

The dossier, which was published by BuzzFeed and denounced by Mr Trump as fake news, claimed Mr Trump was secretly filed with Russian prostitutes in a sting operation in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.

In a statement sent to The Independent, GPS Fusion said: “Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is absolutely false."

Senate investigators have said they want to talk to Mr Trump Jr about the meeting. The 39-year-old, who recently retained a criminal defence lawyer to hep him, has said is prepared to cooperate with the committee.

The developments come as special prosecutor Robert Mueller heads a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia's alleged efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

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