WASHINGTON — Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.
The email to the younger Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement Sunday, Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Clinton, but he gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.
Goldstone's message, as described to the New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.
But the email is likely to be of keen interest to the Justice Department and congressional investigators, who are examining whether any of President Donald Trump's associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year's election. U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government attempted to sway the election in favor of Trump.
Alan Futerfas, the lawyer for the younger Trump, said his client had done nothing wrong but pledged to work with investigators if contacted.
"In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia," he said to the Times in an email Monday. "Don Jr.'s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed."
It is unclear whether Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been given to him by others.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman at the time, also attended the June 2016 meeting in New York. Representatives for Kushner referred requests for comments back to an earlier statement, which said he voluntarily disclosed the meeting to the federal government. He has deferred questions on the content of the meeting to Trump Jr.
A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.
But at the White House, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was adamant from the briefing room lectern that "the president's campaign did not collude in any way. Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election. No one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election."
The younger Trump, who had a reputation during the campaign for having meetings with a wide range of people eager to speak to him, did not join his father's administration. He runs the family business, the Trump Organization, with his brother Eric.
On Monday, after news reports that he had hired a lawyer, he indicated in a tweet that he would be open to speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the congressional panels investigating Russian meddling in the election. "Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know," the younger Trump wrote.
Goldstone represents Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father was President Donald Trump's business partner in bringing the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. In an interview Monday, Goldstone said he was asked by Agalarov to set up the meeting with Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
"He said, 'I'm told she has information about illegal campaign contributions to the DNC,' " Goldstone recalled, referring to the Democratic National Committee. He said he then emailed Trump Jr., outlining what the lawyer purported to have.
Goldstone said his recollection of the meeting largely tracked with the account given by the president's son, as outlined in the Sunday statement Trump Jr. released in response to a Times story on the June 2016 meeting. Goldstone said that the last time he had communicated with the younger Trump was to send him a congratulatory text after the November election, but added that he did speak to the Trump Organization over the past weekend, before giving his account to the media.
Trump Jr., who initially told the Times that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the resumption of adoption of Russian children by American families, acknowledged in the Sunday statement that one subject of the meeting was possibly compromising information about Clinton.
But he said the Russian lawyer produced nothing of consequence, and that the meeting ended after she began talking about the Magnitsky Act — an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged Putin that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.
Goldstone said Veselnitskaya only offered "just a vague, generic statement about the campaign's funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn't donate" before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments.
"It was the most inane nonsense I've ever heard," he said. "And I was actually feeling agitated by it. Had I, you know, actually taken up what is a huge amount of their busy time with this nonsense?"