U.S. President Donald Trump has acknowledged that a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York with a Kremlin-linked attorney was conducted to receive information on his political opponent, but he claimed it was “totally legal.”
In a Twitter post early on August 5, Trump asserted that meetings of this type were "done all the time in politics."
The 2016 meeting was attended by Trump's son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law and now senior adviser Jared Kushner; Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman at the time; Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya; and others, according to congressional testimony.
The meeting was set up after a Russian intermediary told Trump’s son that a Russian official had offered to provide documents and information that would “incriminate” Trump's election rival Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya has denied acting on behalf of the Kremlin when she met with the Trump team, telling Congress that she operates "independently of any government bodies."
But the Associated Press on July 27 reported that it has reviewed documents showing Veselnitskaya has worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously has let on.
Trump’s Twitter post was his most direct statement on the purpose of the meeting, though his son and others eventually acknowledged it was to gather damaging information on Clinton after e-mails surfaced with details on the planning.
Trump had previously said the meeting was about the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
On Twitter, Trump also denied he was worried his son could be in legal trouble for conducting the meeting.
"Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!" Trump wrote.
While U.S. political campaigns routinely seek out research on opponents in hopes of finding disparaging information, working with a foreign power or its representatives could break campaign or other laws.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been tasked with determining whether Trump's campaign team coordinated with Russia to sway the election in his favor.
Trump has so far denied any collusion with Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his government interfered in the election, despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies and congressional committees that Moscow intervened with its own state-directed campaign of e-mail hacking and public opinion manipulation.
Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is currently on trial in federal court in Virginia on tax and bank-fraud charges not thought to be directly related to Russian meddling in U.S. elections.