When the New York Times broke the news in July of 2017 that President Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign after she promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton, it didn't look good for those claiming that there had been no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. While all parties present exonerated themselves of any wrongdoing, the news trickling out about the meeting looks increasingly bad. The New York Times has reported that the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr. has deeper Kremlin connections than she admitted to previously.
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had originally said that she only met with Trump Jr. and his associates as a private citizen. The Times reported that the group present at the meeting included Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, in addition to Trump Jr.
Not long after the original news broke about the meeting, The New York Times also asserted that Veselnitskaya was known as a well-connected person in Moscow. She claimed — up until recently — that she operates on her own, and not in connection with any government. But this weekend, Veselnitskaya made a statement walking back that claim.
"I am a lawyer, and I am an informant," she said in an interview with NBC News. "Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general."
Even in late October, Veselnitskaya was still claiming that she had no connection to the Kremlin. At that time, the New York Times reported that the list of talking points for the meeting had also been shared at the Kremlin. Still, though, the Times reported that Veselnitskaya claimed that any suggestion that she was acting on behalf of the Russian government was anti-Russian “hysteria.”
This new information about Veselnitskaya is most problematic for Trump Jr., whose story about the meeting has evolved continually in response to revelations in the news. When the Times first reported that Trump Jr. had met with a Russian lawyer during the campaign, Trump Jr.'s office issued a statement saying that the meeting's main purpose was to discuss an adoption program. Only the next day, the Times published a follow-up story reporting that Trump Jr. had taken the meeting after being promised negative information about Trump's presidential campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. then responded to that by saying that while Veselnitskaya had promised damaging information, it "quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information” and that they then began discussing adoption.
The Times then went even further with their reporting on the subject, when they revealed that Trump Jr. had responded enthusiastically to the offer of Russian dirt on Clinton, saying "If it’s what you say I love it" in response to the email offering it. The hole he had dug himself grew even deeper, then, when the Washington Post reported that Trump Jr. had conferred with President Trump when drafting a response to the Times' first report. The line that the meeting was about adoption, the Post reported, was the misleading claim that the two agreed that Trump Jr. would go with.
Now, while it doesn't change Trump Jr.'s situation whether or not Veselnitskaya was connected to the Kremlin when she met with him, it still adds another layer to the whole story about the meeting. Now, it can definitively be said that a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer offered Trump Jr. damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and Trump Jr. eagerly accepted that offer. None of these points are in question anymore. Trump Jr. and the president evidently knew that the original story looked bad — otherwise they wouldn't have collaborated on a cover-up. Now, it's just getting worse and worse.