WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence’s office on Tuesday fervently distanced the former Indiana governor from the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer in June 2016 in order to receive damaging information about his father’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
“The Vice President was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket,” Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said in a statement emailed to reporters. “The Vice President is working every day to advance the President’s agenda, which is what the American people sent us here to do.”
At the time of the meeting, President Trump had not yet picked Pence to be his running mate, and the former congressman was campaigning for reelection as governor of Indiana.
In January, Pence flatly denied that there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians looking to interfere in the 2016 election.
John Dickerson, anchor of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” asked Pence on Jan. 15: “Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the elections?”
“Well, of course not,” Pence replied. “And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
But Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday tweeted an email chain about setting up a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and including in the meeting campaign chief Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump Jr.’s brother-in-law and currently a top White House adviser.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” noted one of the emails, from music publicist Rob Goldstone.
Goldstone had sent an initial email to Trump Jr. with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” saying that a Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov, had reached out to Goldstone on behalf of his father, Aras Agalarov, a Russian real estate developer who helped bring the elder Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” wrote Goldstone on June 3, 2016. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Trump Jr. responded 17 minutes later, asking to set up a meeting and suggesting that the information would be useful to drop later in the summer.
“Thanks Rob I appreciate that,” wrote the president’s eldest son. “I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Additional contributions from Gabby Kaufman and Christopher Wilson.
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