The Kremlin says it is unaware of a 2016 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump's senior staff and a Russian attorney who promised to provide damaging information about Trump's challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the lawyer who met with the Trump team, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is not known to senior Russian government officials. He dismissed inquirires about her, saying Russian authorities "cannot keep track" of all Russian lawyers and their contacts overseas.
Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said Sunday that he, Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with the Russian lawyer in New York in June 2016, shortly after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
'No meaningful information' emerged
Veselnitskaya had said she would share information that could hurt Clinton's campaign. Trump's son failed to include that detail when he originally acknowledged meeting with the Russian lawyer, but he acknowledged the political overtone to the meeting in a clarifying statement on Sunday.
However, Trump Jr. said, "No details or supporting information was provided or even offered" during the brief conversation with Veselnitskaya, and "it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
The younger Trump on Monday defended his meeting with the Russian lawyer, saying it "went nowhere," but that he "had to listen." White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Don Jr. did not collude with anyone to influence the election."
Separate media reports late Monday said Trump's son has retained legal counsel to represent him in connection with the Veselnitskaya incident.
Music publicist arranged talks
Trump's son has said his father was unaware of the meeting at Trump Tower, the campaign team's headquarters last year. The president's lawyer also has said Trump himself had no knowledge of the Russian lawyer's contact with Manafort, Kushner and Trump Jr. at the time.
The get-together was arranged by music publicist Rob Goldstone on behalf of a Moscow client, Azerbaijani singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov, who knew the future president through his 2013 promotion of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
The New York Times first disclosed the Russian lawyer's meeting with the Trump team. Trump's son told the newspaper on Saturday that the talks with Veselnitskaya were about Moscow's ban on allowing American couples to adopt Russian children. On Sunday, however, after The Times contacted him again, the younger Trump revised his comments to make clear that the Russian lawyer had promised she had damaging information about Clinton.
The meeting with Veselnitskaya is believed to be the first known contact between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian interests in the midst of Trump's run for the White House that culminated with his victory over Clinton in November.
Veselnitskaya tried to lift sanctions
Veselnitskaya is known for her attempts to undercut the sanctions against Russian human-rights abusers, U.S. media reports said. Her clients reportedly 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.
President Trump is facing investigations about Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials. The U.S. intelligence community says Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to discredit the U.S. election, damage Clinton and help Trump win, a claim he rejected in a meeting with Trump last Friday at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Numerous congressional investigations are underway and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is conducting a probe of the Trump campaign links with Russia and whether Trump possibly obstructed justice when he fired James Comey, the FBI director who was heading the Russia investigation before Mueller took over.
Trump has called the Russia investigations a "witch hunt" and an excuse by Democrats to account for Clinton's loss. He has repeatedly denied having links to Russia.