Senior White House adviser -- and son-in-law to President Donald Trump -- Jared Kushner and then-Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a lawyer with close ties to the Kremlin shortly after Trump secured the Republican nomination, says a bombshell report in Saturday's New York Times.
Matt Apuzzo, Jo Becker and Adam Goldman of the Times reported that Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya had a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower with campaign officials on June 9, 2016 -- a meeting that neither Kushner nor Manafort reported to the federal government as required by law.
President Trump and his advisers have long maintained that there is no evidence that the campaign colluded with Russian officials to meddle with the outcome of the 2016 election.
However, the Times said, "(T)his episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald J. Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting."
When the Times spoke with representatives of Pres. Trump and Kushner, they admitted that the meeting took place as described. Trump Jr. issued a statement saying that the meeting was about an adoption program.
Veselnitskaya, the Times said, has been running a "multi-pronged attack" against a U.S. law known as the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. Russian President Vladimir Putin was so enraged by the law that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
She is married to a former Kremlin official and her legal clients include Russian state-owned companies as well as the son of a senior government official whose company was under investigation by the U.S. government at the time of the Trump Tower meeting.
In addition to challenging the Magnitsky Act in court, she was active in the production of a propaganda film called "The Magnitsy Act -- Behind the Scenes" which made false attacks on the legacy of the Russian dissident the act is named for, Sergei L. Magnitsky, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009.
Research, said the Times, shows Veselnitskaya to be a "formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda."
“She’s not just some private lawyer,” said longtime Veselnitskaya legal adversary William F. Browder -- who is maligned as one of the villains in the Magnitsky smear film. “She is a tool of the Russian government.”
Kushner and Manafort ultimately admitted to the meeting, filing notification with the FBI long after their initial applications for security clearances. Donald Trump Jr. is not a government employee and was not obligated to disclose his meetings with foreign nationals and envoys of other governments.
Manafort has also registered after the fact to being a foreign agent on U.S. soil after information came to light about the millions of dollars he was paid as a consultant to the pro-Putin, anti-sovereignty party in Ukraine, a regime that ended in disgrace with its leader in exile.