President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., remains in hot water due to a report that he met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential election in order to obtain dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
"This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States," said Richard W. Painter, who worked as chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. "We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason."
He added, "This is unacceptable. This borders on treason, if it is not itself treason, depending on whether The New York Times story is true."
The controversy surrounding Trump stems from his decision to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with close connections to the Kremlin, in June 2016. Joined by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump is reported to have met with Veselnitskaya because she claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Trump has provided two contradictory explanations for the meeting, according to a report by The New York Times. On Saturday, Trump released a statement describing his encounter with Veselnitskaya as "a short introductory meeting" in which "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."
On Sunday, however, Trump said that "the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton." After describing her information as "vague, ambiguous and made no sense," Trump claims that "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."
As critics have pointed out, this latter statement heavily implies a concession by Trump that he had met with Veselnitskaya in order to find dirt on Clinton, regardless of whether those efforts were ultimately fruitful.