President Donald Trump weighed in on the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s involvement in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with members of the Trump campaign, and revelations that she is an “informant” for the Kremlin.
In doing so, the president may have publicly indicated for the first time a link between Veselnitskaya and the Russian government.
Speaking at a freewheeling rally in Michigan Saturday night, Trump began by touting how tough his administration has been on Russia.
“In fact, have you heard about the lawyer?” he said, referring to Veselnitskaya. “For a year — a woman lawyer — she was like, ‘Oh, I know nothing.’ Now all of a sudden, she supposedly is involved with the [Russian] government.”
Veselnitskaya is believed to have attended the Trump Tower meeting as a representative of Yuri Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general who is closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Veselnitskaya sought to distance herself from Chaika at first, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in November that she worked exclusively as a private lawyer and that her ties to the Russian government and Chaika were only in a professional capacity.
But she contradicted her earlier statements in an interview with NBC News that aired on Friday.
“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”
Speaking about the revelation on Saturday night, Trump said, “You know what? If she did that,” it was “because Putin and the group said, ‘You know, this Trump is killing us. Why don’t you say that you’re involved with government so that we can go and make their life in the United States even more chaotic.'”
Trump has not previously acknowledged a relationship between Veselnitskaya and Putin or the Russian government.
When the British music publicist Rob Goldstone initially pitched the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 to Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., he wrote in an email: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
Goldstone added that the meeting was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
As Business Insider has previously reported, Veselnitskaya brought a memo to the Trump Tower meeting that contained many of the same talking points as one that Chaika’s office had written two months earlier. Both memos focused largely on criticizing the 2012 Magnitsky Act, a law Putin strongly opposes that sanctions wealthy Russians suspected of human-rights abuses.
After reports of the meeting surfaced, Trump Jr. released evolving statements about its purpose, eventually acknowledging that Veselnitskaya had promised dirt on Clinton but that the information never came to light.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers said at first that he had no knowledge of the meeting or its aftermath.
But the Washington Post later reported that Trump was the one who dictated Trump Jr.’s initially misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting.
This week, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released new details, in their rebuttal to the panel’s final Russia investigation report, which indicate that there were additional contacts between Trump’s campaign and key players involved in the Trump Tower meeting during and after the election.
In particular, ranking member Adam Schiff told CNN that Veselnitskaya reached out to the Trump family after the election to follow up on her efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act.
“Clearly, there’s an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act, given the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help,” Schiff said. “It certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback.”
Aras Agalarov, an Azerbaijani-Russian oligarch and real-estate developer who was a central figure in the push to set up the Trump Tower meeting, also reached out to Trump’s transition team. And Agalarov’s son, Emin, texted Trump Jr. two days after the meeting, according to BuzzFeed.
The post-election outreach to Trump’s team from Aras Agalarov came via Goldstone, who was the primary intermediary between the Trump campaign and Veselnitskaya during the campaign.
In a November 28, 2016 email to Trump’s assistant, Rhona Graff, Goldstone wrote: “Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.”
According to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, the document attached to the email was related to the Magnitsky Act.
Graff forwarded the email to incoming White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well,” Graff wrote. “Rob is his rep in the US and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all.”
“Look at what’s happened,” Trump said at his rally on Saturday. “Look at how these politicians have fallen for this junk. Russian collusion — give me a break.”Moldova: Chisinau struggles against the russophobe oligarch