By Sam Clench
Donald Trump's eldest son has made a stunning admission, revealing he expected to be presented with "helpful" information about Hillary Clinton when he met a Russian lawyer at the height of last year's presidential election campaign.
Donald Trump Jr, along with the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. The New York Times first revealed this meeting on Saturday.
In response to that initial story, Trump Jr claimed the meeting was to discuss an adoption program.
"It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up," Trump Jr said.
"I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand."
That sounded innocent enough, but today the Times published a follow-up story, citing three White House advisers, claiming the president's son was "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton" before he agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya.
Trump Jr provided a statement elaborating on his previous description of the meeting.
"I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant (which was held in Moscow) with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance," Trump Jr said.
"After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense.
"No details or supporting information were provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.
"She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Maginsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting."
In January, Vice President Mike Pence was asked whether any Trump campaign member had contact with the Russians. His response was "of course not".
On Saturday, when asked about his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr claimed it was "primarily" about adoption, and made no mention of potentially damaging information about Clinton being on the table.
Now the president's son has revealed he, Manafort and Kushner - three members of Donald Trump's inner circle at the time - all attended a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian because he was under the impression they would be offered information "helpful" to the Trump campaign.
Trump Jr's latest statement has been described as "jaw-dropping" and "stunningly incriminating" by members of the American media.
"Trump Jr confirmed that he went into the meeting expecting to receive information from the Russian lawyer that could hurt Clinton. That is a breathtaking admission," wrote the Washington Post's Callum Borchers.
"What POTUS's son admits to in this statement is jaw-dropping in and of itself," said NBC political director Chuck Todd.
But the most strident response came from Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer who served the Republican president George W. Bush.
"This is treason. He must have known that the only way Russia would get such information was by spying," Painter said.
"In the Bush Administration we would have had him in custody for questioning by now."
Meanwhile the president's supporters, such as CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, downplayed the new revelations.
"Once again we're left with no proof that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election," Lord said.
"I've been in presidential campaigns, all kinds of people come out of the woodwork telling you that they've got information on your opposition. This happens every single day ... there is nothing new here."