The President’s son-in-law reportedly has an unusual excuse for why he, the President’s family and campaign aides attended a meeting before the election with a Russian lawyer to “get dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Jared Kushner was forwarded an email from Donald Trump Jr, in which a contact claimed he could set up a meeting at Trump Tower with a lawyer who worked for the Russian government.
In the emails, the contact, a former tabloid reporter called Rob Goldstone, said the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was a “Russian government attorney” who could provide “very high level and sensitive information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.”
But a source close to the situation told BuzzFeed that Mr Kushner did not read to the bottom of the email, missing out key words like “Russian government” and therefore did not realise what the meeting was about.
The subject line of the email chain was “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential”.
Mr Kushner was only in the meeting room for about 10 minutes and was not party to any sharing of information about Ms Clinton, his senior adviser claimed. Mr Kushner was only present to hear the lawyer’s proposals for a Russian adoption programme, he said.
The adoption programme was not mentioned in the email chain.
According to Yahoo News, Mr Kushner’s legal team said that they sent in his SF-86 form for senior administration posts in January without mentioning any meetings with foreign government officials, because “a member of his staff had prematurely hit the ‘send’ button for the firm before [the form] was completed.”
Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, also attended the meeting at Trump Tower.
A source close to Mr Manafort told Politico that he “hadn’t read all the way to the bottom of the email exchanges on his phone and that he didn’t even know who he was meeting.”
The President reportedly approved his son’s statement about the meeting after the news broke, and he said his son was a “high quality person”.
“Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?” President Trump tweeted on Sunday.
Mr Trump and his lawyer Jay Sekulow have repeatedly pointed to their former rival when questioned over the most recent email scandal.
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“Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if [the Trump Tower meeting] was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in,” Mr Sekulow told ABC News.
“The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”
Mr Trump’s son claimed the Russian lawyer tried to push for an adoption programme and after 15 or 20 minutes the meeting broke up and he did not get any information about Ms Clinton.
The President’s son has never denied his aim was to hear negative reports about his father’s opponent, which he has termed as “opposition research”, and he released the email chain himself on Twitter last week.
The meeting last year took place a week before the Democratic National Committee said its email servers had been hacked, a move that US intelligence agencies said was due to Russians trying to exert a “campaign of influence” upon the election.
During an interview with NBC, the lawyer, Ms Veselnitskaya, agreed with the party line that Mr Kushner had only appeared in the meeting room for about 10 minutes and that Mr Manafort gave more attention to his smartphone than to her.
Questions remain as to how senior aides of the President during the campaign failed to notice the subject line of Donald Trump Jr’s email chain or its content before agreeing to attend the meeting.