WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee is interested in talking to Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the president, about his meeting with a Russian lawyer last June, a well-placed committee source tells NBC News.
Trump Jr.'s meeting raises a host of questions, the source said, including why the president's son would sit down with a Russian lawyer he says he didn’t know on the pretext of learning damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle also expressed a desire to meet with Trump Jr. in light of his acknowledgment Sunday that he met with a woman who turned out to be a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the 2016 presidential election — after being told she allegedly had information that could help his father's presidential campaign.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who serves on the committee, told reporters Monday that she would like to see her panel speak to him, while Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee vice chairman, said he "absolutely" wanted to interview Trump Jr. and ask him "serious questions."
Trump Jr. tweeted Monday that he would be "happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know," though a spokeswoman for the Senate committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., would not comment on whether the committee plans to invite him before the panel.
According to a Trump Organization spokesman, Trump Jr. has hired a lawyer, Alan Futerfas, to represent him in connection with the Russia probes.
The White House said Monday President Donald Trump only became aware of the meeting between his son, son-in-law, campaign manager and a Russian lawyer in the "last couple of days."
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters off-camera Monday that the president's son "certainly" did not collude with Russians to influence the election.
The Senate panel is scheduled to begin its first interviews with Trump campaign officials later this week as the panel continues probing alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, another source familiar with the committee's work told NBC News.
The source did not have names of the officials to be interviewed, or the times of those interviews.
The committee's likely interest in the president's son stems from the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, during the campaign, which was first reported by The New York Times Saturday. Trump Jr. responded with a statement confirming that the meeting occurred.
He said he attended "a short introductory meeting" with Veselnitskaya, where the topic of conversation was primarily about adoption. He added that the topic was not a campaign issue at the time and that there was no follow-up conversation.
“I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting beforehand," he added in Saturday's statement. According to Donald Trump Jr., the meeting occurred in June 2016, and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended.
Then on Sunday, The Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting after having been told that the person there had information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. The Times article, which was based on conversations with three anonymous White House advisers, said news of the meeting represented the first public indication that members of the 2016 Trump campaign were willing to accept Russian help.
Donald Trump Jr. then released a more detailed statement after the report Sunday.
"I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign," Trump Jr. said in Sunday's statement. "I was not told her name prior to the meeting."
He added that he asked Kushner and Manafort to attend but that they knew "nothing of the substance."
"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," he said. "Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense."
Donald Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya did not provide any details or information that related to Clinton and that the topic of conversation turned to U.S. adoption of Russian children.
He claimed that the conversation continued to revolve around adoption and the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that barred Russian human rights abusers from entering the country. In response, the Russian government stopped U.S. families from adopting Russian children.
"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," Donald Trump Jr. said in Sunday's statement. "I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office."
The meeting lasted about 20 to 30 minutes, he added.
On Monday, the Kremlin said that it was unaware of the meeting and did not who the lawyer is, according to the Associated Press.
It added that Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that the Kremlin "cannot keep track" of every Russian lawyer and their meetings in Russia or abroad.
The Times had previously identified the lawyer as Veselnitskaya, a Russian national known to push the Kremlin's agenda and its continued battle against the Magnitsky Act.
"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," Trump Jr. tweeted.
Music publicist Rob Goldstone confirmed to NBC News later Monday he was the person to “help facilitate” the meeting.
"I was asked by my client in Moscow — Emin Agalarov — to help facilitate a meeting between a Russian attorney (Natalia Veselnitzkaya) and Donald Trump Jr. The lawyer had apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal campaign contributions to the DNC which she believed Mr. Trump Jr. might find important,” Goldstone said in a statement.
“I reached out to Donald Trump Jr. and he agreed to squeeze us into a very tight meeting schedule,” he added. “At the meeting, the Russian attorney presented a few very general remarks regarding campaign funding and then quickly turned the topic to that of the Magnitsky Act and the banned U.S. adoption of Russian children — at which point the meeting was halted by Don Jr. and we left. Nothing came of that meeting and there was no follow up between the parties.”
Donald Trump Jr. has said his father did not know about the meeting.
Kushner did not initially include the meeting on his national security questionnaire, which his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said was filed prematurely.
Manafort and Kushner did not respond to NBC News' requests for comment, though Kushner's attorney confirmed on Saturday that the meeting did occur.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia was the mastermind behind a series of hacks and propaganda campaigns to interfere with the 2016 election. NBC News has reported that senior intelligence officials believe — with a "high degree of confidence" — that Putin was personally involved.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading a team of investigators that is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government's campaign. The House and Senate intelligence committees are also looking into Russian interference in the election.
Ken Dilanian and Frank Thorp V reported from Washington. Adam Edelman reported from New York.