Tuesday, July 11, 2017 6:59 a.m. CDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign said on Tuesday she had no Kremlin ties and wanted to discuss U.S. sanctions on Russian officials, not Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton,” Natalia Veselnitskaya told NBC News in an interview in Moscow. “It was never my intention to have that.”
The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump Jr. was told in an email before the meeting that the lawyer’s offer of information that might damage Clinton was part of a Russian government bid to aid his father’s presidential campaign.
Publicist Rob Goldstone said in the message to U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information, the paper reported, citing three people with knowledge of the email.
Trump Jr. did not mention in a statement on Sunday that he had been told the lawyer might be a proxy for the Kremlin.
Allegations of Russian activities designed to sway the 2016 presidential campaign to Donald Trump have shadowed the Republican president’s first months in the White House. Congressional committees and a federal special counsel are investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Veselnitskaya said she did not know why Trump Jr. believed she was planning to offer damaging information about Clinton.
“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such information,” she told NBC. “They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”
She said Trump Jr. asked her just one question: whether she had financial records indicating inappropriate donations to the Democratic National Committee.
Veselnitskaya, who has represented Russian officials in courts, denied links to the Russian government in the interview.
U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said on Tuesday his panel wants to see the email to Trump Jr. saying the Russian government wanted to help his father’s campaign.
“I think we need to bring in anyone that was present in that meeting, anyone who had a role in setting up that meeting. And this email must exist if the reporting is accurate,” he told CNN.
Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee also called on Trump Jr. to testify.
Russia denies interfering in the U.S. election and Trump says there was no collusion with Moscow. But unreported contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials have raised troubling questions.
In January, the Trump White House denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. Reuters reported in May that former national security adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump advisers had contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the campaign.
Trump Jr., who runs the Trump Organization with his brother, Eric, downplayed the June 9, 2016, meeting on Tuesday. “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation,” he said on Twitter.
Trump Jr. initially told the Times adoption was the topic of the Trump Tower meeting, but later acknowledged he had been promised damaging information about Clinton. He said he realized what her agenda was when she began to discuss adoptions and mentioned the Magnitsky Act.
The 2012 law sanctioned Russian officials linked to human rights abuses including the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower. Shortly after it passed, Putin banned U.S. adoption of Russian children.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown)