MOSCOW — An emotional Natalia Veselnitskaya told The Washington Post Tuesday that no one assigned her to talk with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 — in a meeting that was sold to Trump as a means of obtaining, from the Russian government, potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist who arranged the meeting, had held out the promise of “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” according to an email chain made public Tuesday by Trump. He referred to a “Russian government lawyer” who would attend. Trump had responded enthusiastically to the proposed meeting.
Veselnitskaya does not work for the Russian government. She has been identified by some American news organizations as “Kremlin-connected,” which is not very precise. She is a successful lawyer in the Moscow Oblast — the region surrounding the capital, but not including the city itself. She formerly worked in the local prosecutor's office.
Here is an edited transcript of the interview, conducted in Russian:
“I am in shock. I’m just an ordinary person. A regional prosecutor is not the Kremlin.
“This is just nonsense.
“You don’t know what to do with your Trump so you are making up stories. That isn’t right. It’s not right to play with people’s lives like this. I have four children. One turned 8 today but I’ve been here all day. [The interview took place at the NBC office in Moscow.] Because someone in America really wants to overthrow their president. Overthrow him, I don’t give a damn. Who gave you the right to come up with this stuff?
“I did not have an assignment from the Kremlin, there were no orders from the government.”
She then complained bitterly about the Magnitsky act, an American law that imposes sanctions on certain Russian officials, including one of her clients, Denis Katsyv. She has been active in lobbying against the law and appeared last year at a screening in Washington of a film that was critical of its advocates. She also complained about a federal money-laundering case in New York against Katsyv, which was settled this spring.
“I didn’t know that Trump would be elected, I didn’t come to them as political candidates, I didn’t come to them to see the son of the possible future president. I came to him as a person who has support in the Republican Party, and because my friend said you can go see him, he’ll let you see him. I’m far from politics, I went to him [Trump Jr.], I went to the Jewish community, because my client is Jewish, I said please get your Congress involved, talk to your congressmen [about repealing the Magnitsky law].
“I do not represent the government. I am a private citizen.”
She said a “friend” said she'd be able to see “his friend.” When asked, several times, if she was referring to Emin Agalarov, a pop singer who appears to have been instrumental in persuading Goldstone to set up the meeting, she didn't reply.
“I think it was someone who wanted to look like they were a big shot,” Veselnitskaya said. “Goldstone. I think he said he had something very important from the Kremlin to make it look like he is a big deal.”
But she said she wanted to talk about the Magnitsky sanctions. In the meeting with Trump, “We sat and talked to each other for a few minutes and it was clear we were talking about two different things.”