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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Trump son changes account of meeting with Russian lawyer during election campaign

It came as the Kremlin disavowed knowledge of the lawyer, or any meeting between Trump senior staff and the woman

US president Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr (pictured), changed his account on Sunday of a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign. Saul Loeb / AFP
US president Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr (pictured), changed his account on Sunday of a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign. Saul Loeb / AFP

WASHINGTON // US president Donald Trump's eldest son has changed his account of a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying the woman told him she had information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, has disavowed knowledge of the Russian lawyer, or any meeting between Trump senior staff and the woman.

A statement from Donald Trump Jr on Saturday made no mention of Mrs Clinton. In his initial depiction of the meeting last June, the president's son said the discussion focused on a disbanded programme that used to allow American adoptions of Russian children.

Mr Trump Jr shifted his account of the meeting on Sunday, apparently after being presented with additional information from The New York Times, which first reported both the discussion and the prospect of negative information about Mrs Clinton.

The meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya is the earliest known private meeting between key aides to the president and a Russian. Federal and congressional investigators are probing whether Mr Trump's campaign co-ordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election, investigations the president has called a "hoax".

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya.

The Times, citing advisers to the White House who were briefed on the discussion, said Mr Trump Jr agreed to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Mrs Clinton.

In his statement on Sunday, Mr Trump Jr said he was asked by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to have a meeting with a person he was told might have information that would be "helpful" to the Trump campaign. He said he was not told the name of the person ahead of the meeting.

Mr Trump Jr said the lawyer claimed during the discussion to have information that "individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee" and supporting Mrs Clinton.

"No details or supporting information was provided or even offered," Mr Trump Jr said. "It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."

He said his father was unaware of the meeting.

Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday that the Kremlin was unaware of a meeting between president Trump's senior staff and a Russian lawyer, that it doesn't know who Ms Veselnitskaya is, and that it "cannot keep track" of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad.

The Times said Ms Veselnitskaya is known for her attempts to undercut sanctions against Russian human rights abusers. The newspaper also said her clients include state-owned businesses and the son of a senior government official whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting.

Also on Monday, Russia confirmed that Mr Putin and Mr Trump had discussed forming a joint Russian-US group on cyber security — an idea that has provoked uproar in Washington — but said it was only a tentative proposal.

Mr Trump said on Twitter early on Sunday that the two leaders had discussed forming "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" when they met at the G20 summit in Hamburg a day before.

The idea was greeted with incredulity by some senior Republican lawmakers in the US who said Moscow could not be trusted — and later in the day, the US president tweeted that he did not think it could happen.

"The heads of state did talk about such a possibility," Mr Peskov said. "Nothing was promised to each other" but "they stated their readiness to work in this direction."

Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official who was at the Hamburg summit, said earlier on Monday that Mr Putin and Mr Trump's discussion of cyber security had taken up 40 minutes of their meeting, which lasted more than two hours.