Did Donald Trump Jr. Know the Russians Were Behind Hillary Clinton Dirt?

Donald Trump kisses his son Donald Jr. at a campaign event at Regents University, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, February 24, 2016. Reuters

Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, agreed to meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in 2016 he believed would offer him damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government plot to aid his father's candidacy, The New York Times reported.

The latest development added yet more intriguing details to the account of Trump Jr.'s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected attorney who the 39-year-old acknowledged on Monday he had met, in part, to see if she had damaging information about his father's rival for the presidency. According to the Times, Trump Jr. had received an email from a former British journalist turned publicist, Robert Goldstone, who had brokered the meeting in which he stated that the damaging information was obtained by the Russian government.

The Times story does not quote the email but says its contents were conveyed to them by three anonymous sources. At least one of those sources, the Times said, portrayed the note as Goldstone simply passing along information others had given him. The email does not mention Russian hacking.

The story appeared to further connect the Trump campaign with the Russian effort to meddle in last year's presidential election.

Alan Futerfas, a criminal defense attorney who the White House said on Monday, denied any improper actions and depicted Trump Jr. as simply receiving "information potentially helpful to the [Trump] campaign, " the Times reported. Futerfas said his client had done nothing wrong and pledged the scion's cooperation with investigators looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

The meeting with the Russian attorney took place in June 2016, shortly after Trump had amassed enough delegates to guarantee him the Republican presidential nomination. The meeting also reportedly included then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

President Trump has not responded to this latest story and he avoided mention of his son on Monday when earlier accounts of the meeting were unfolding. Donald Trump, Jr., however, took to Twitter to defend his actions.

"Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent...went nowhere but had to listen," he tweeted. In another, he declared: "No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q's I simply provided more details."

The recent revelations about the meeting will clearly be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees who are also investigating Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election.

President Trump has repeatedly dismissed any talk of collusion as "fake news" and while he's acknowledged Russian efforts at interfering in the election he's also laid blame on "other countries" without identifying any by name. The president has also retained counsel in the investigation.

Mr. Goldstone represents a Russian singer, Emin Agalarov, whose father was President Trump's business partner in the Miss Universe pageant which was owned by Mr. Trump and was held in Moscow in 2013. In an interview Monday with Times, Mr. Goldstone said he was asked by Mr. Agalarov to broker the meeting with Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer.

It's not at all clear that the meeting with the Russian attorney was illegal although it was highly unusual. It's common for campaign officials on the cusp of their nominating convention to be extremely busy as they consolidate support in their party, prepare for their prime time addresses as well as the fall campaign. Why so many top officials of the campaign would choose to meet with a Russian attorney at such a busy moment in their quest for the presidency will be of deep interest to investigators.

The White House underscored on Monday that President Trump was not in attendance at the meeting at Trump Tower although published reports say he was in his eponymous skyscraper at the time.