Unanswered questions about Russian lawyer’s meeting with Donald Trump Jr.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Despite the trickle of details about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer during his father’s presidential campaign, there are still a number of unanswered questions.
Trump Jr. and others have addressed some of the particulars, but the information is based only on the accounts given by those in the room during that June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower in New York City, leaving many details unknown.
Here is a look at what we know and don’t know about the meeting:
How did the meeting get arranged?
According to the emails that Donald Trump Jr. released on Tuesday, the first he heard of the meeting was when Rob Goldstone, a music promoter and acquaintance of Trump Jr.’s, reached out to him on June 3, which included an offer “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”
The email chain appeared to go from there into logistics of setting up a meeting with “The Russian government attorney.”
The attorney wasn’t named in the emails, but has been identified as Natalia Veselnitskaya. Speaking to ABC News, she described the mysterious circumstances by which she became involved in the meeting. She said she received a call from a Russian-speaking person who told her that members of Trump’s campaign team would see her.
Who is actually responsible for saying the Russians had dirt on Clinton?
This remains unclear.
Scott Balber, an attorney for Goldstone’s client Emin Algalarov — a pop singer and the son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, both of whom have ties to Trump — released a statement to ABC News and it appears to suggest that there is a discrepancy between what Veselnitskaya, whom Balber described as an acquaintance, wanted to achieve in the meeting and what Goldstone said to Trump in setting up the meeting.
“Natalia wanted an introduction made to the Trump team. Our understanding was the purpose of the meeting was to talk about the Magnitsky Act which has been an issue that she’s been pursuing,” Balber said in the statement.
“Rob Goldstone is a promoter who was acting on behalf of Emin. So the introduction was made for that purpose. At no point did we think the purpose of the meeting was to convey information about Hillary Clinton or the campaign,” he said.
Goldstone released a statement pointing to Emin Agalarov as the source of his understanding on the reason for the meeting.
“I was asked by my client in Moscow — Emin Agalarov — to help facilitate a meeting between a Russian attorney [Veselnitzkaya] and Donald Trump Jr. The lawyer had apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal campaign contributions to the [Democratic National Committee], which she believed Mr. Trump Jr. might find important. I reached out to Donald Trump Jr. and he agreed to squeeze us into a very tight meeting schedule,” Goldstone said in the statement obtained by ABC News on Monday.
For her part, Veselnitskaya denies ever having any damaging material about Clinton or implying that she did to anyone involved.
“I have never had compromising materials on Hilary Clinton. I have never pronounced such a word,” she told ABC News.
She said that she thinks Trump did not have a clear understanding of the information she was interested in sharing – about the Magnitsky Act – though she did not explain how she thinks Goldstone got the impression or why he decided to suggest to Trump that she had information about Clinton.
“I think he [Trump] misunderstood it, from the very beginning he was expecting it very much and when he did not get it,” she said to ABC.
Why did Trump accept the meeting?
Trump has maintained in his more recent statements that he was interested in attending the meeting because “the information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research,” as he said in a statement released on Twitter Tuesday.
He reiterated the statement on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Tuesday night.
“For me this was opposition research, they had something, may be concrete evidence to all the stories I had been hearing about but were probably unreported for years, not just during the campaign, so I think I wanted to hear it out,” Trump Jr. said on Hannity’s show Tuesday night.
What did Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort know about the meeting before going into it?
In Trump’s first two statements about the meeting, he said that he “asked Jared and Paul to stop by” and then “I asked Jared and Paul to attend but told them nothing of the substance,” respectively.
According to the email chain he released via Twitter on Tuesday, however, Trump contradicted his own narrative. The chain appears to show that he forwarded the chain to Kushner and Manafort on June 8, the day before the meeting, with a logistical update. But, in forwarding the chain, the rest of the email exchange also would have been forwarded, including Trump’s back-and-forth with Goldstone about the nature of the meeting.
That said, Manafort maintains he didn’t know about the substance, according to a source close to him.
A source close to Manafort told ABC News though the former campaign chairman was forwarded the email chain between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone, Manafort never read the full exchange.
Kushner referred reporters to his brother-in-law’s attorney for any questions.
How long did Kushner stay in the meeting?
While he did attend, the developing narrative around the meeting has Kushner leaving not long after it started.
This weekend, Kushner counsel Jamie Gorelick released a statement on her client’s behalf, saying that Kushner “briefly attended [the meeting] at the request of his brother-in-law.”
And Veselnitskaya told NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday that the man she believed to be Kushner “left the meeting after about seven to 10 minutes.”
Kushner is the only one of the three Trump team members in the meeting who currently has a security clearance and works in the White House as a senior adviser to the president.
What was discussed?
Trump has described the meeting several times in his multiple statements.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. [Veselnitskaya’s] statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information,” Trump said in his second statement to ABC News this weekend. “She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”
Goldstone described a similar scenario.
“At the meeting, the Russian attorney presented a few very general remarks regarding campaign funding and then quickly turned the topic to that of the Magnitsky Act and the banned U.S. adoption of Russian children — at which point the meeting was halted by Don Jr., and we left,” Goldstone said in the statement obtained by ABC News on Monday.
Who is the ‘Crown prosecutor’? And did they give documents to Aras Agalarov?
It remains unclear whom Goldstone was referring to in the initial email in the email chain released by Trump when he wrote, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Aras Agalarov] this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.”
Goldstone did not name this alleged government official, and that title does not directly match any positions in Russia.
Russia does have a prosecutor general, which is roughly the equivalent of the attorney general in the United States.
No information has emerged to suggest whether or not any government official attempted to pass information through Aras Agalarov.
Who in the Russian government might have been pushing it to Emin Agalarov and his father?
The email chain between Goldstone and Trump started with the premise that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras [Agalarov] this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information.”
It remains unclear if this happened, and if so, who was involved.
What are the other Russian government efforts to help Trump’s campaign?
One of the emails shared by Trump Jr. on Twitter suggests that there was more going on in Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign than any alleged motivation for this meeting.
In the email chain released by Trump, Goldstone wrote, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.”
The nature of that purported “support” has not been detailed any further by anyone involved in this meeting.
While all of the U.S. intelligence agencies have released reports about how Russia attempted to interfere in the U.S. election, it remains unclear if their findings are related or the same as the efforts referenced in the Trump Jr.-Goldstone emails.
Why wasn’t the meeting disclosed initially?
Kushner’s attorney Gorelick said that the meeting was one of many that were accidentally left off his disclosure forms.
“As we have previously stated, Mr. Kushner’s SF-86 was prematurely submitted and, among other errors, did not list any contacts with foreign government officials,” Gorelick said in a statement. “The next day, Mr. Kushner submitted supplemental information stating that he had had “numerous contacts with foreign officials” about which he would be happy to provide additional information. He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr.”
She did not release the specific dates when the previously omitted meetings — including this one — were added onto his disclosure forms.
What other Russian meetings did Trump Jr. have?
During his interview on Hannity on Tuesday, Trump Jr. suggested that there may have been other similar meetings to this one, though the specifics about any of those hypothetical meetings remains unknown.
When asked if he met with any other people from Russia, Trump Jr. said “You know, I don’t even know. I’ve probably met with other people from Russia.” Hannity then clarified that he meant specifically during the campaign, and Trump Jr. said “not in the context of actual — a formalized meeting or anything like that because why would I?”
What did the president know and when?
During an audio-only briefing Monday, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president learned about the meeting only “in the last couple of days.”
President Trump’s outside legal team confirmed that he was not present for the meeting and said he had not been aware of it.
The Russian government also denied any knowledge of the meeting before this week.
“No, we do not know who it is, and, of course, we cannot track the meetings of all Russian lawyers, both inside the country and abroad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters today when asked if the meeting was coordinated with Russian authorities.
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