Donald Trump Jr., U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son, has said that his meeting with a Russian lawyer did not yield anything useful to his father's presidential campaign and that he never told his father about it.
In an interview late on July 11 with Fox News, Trump acknowledged that he "has probably met with other people from Russia" besides lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, whom he met with in June 2016 after being told that the meeting was part of a Russian-government effort to help his father's candidacy.
But he insisted that he did not attempt to coordinate with them to affect the election or try to damage his father's Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump said he didn't tell his father about the meeting with Veselnitskaya because "there was nothing to tell."
"It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes," he said. "For me, this was opposition research" that he hoped might yield "concrete evidence" against Clinton.
"In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently," he said.
Some members of Congress charged that the Veselnitskaya meeting, as related in e-mails released by Trump himself on July 11, amounted to "collusion" with Russia.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said the e-mails show Trump's son "sought to collude with a hostile foreign power to subvert America's democracy."
Donald Trump Jr. called those allegations "ridiculous" and "overplayed."
In a tweet on July 12, President Trump once again decried the Russia investigations as a "witch hunt" and said that his son had been "open, transparent, and innocent" during the Fox News interview.
Russia: 'Fiction,' 'It Wasn't Us'
Speaking in Brussels the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had "no doubt" that the accusations of Russian election meddling were "orchestrated in an attempt to reverse the results of the election won by Donald Trump."
Lavrov said he had not seen "one fact" establishing Russian election interference and compared the investigations to "making a mountain out of a molehill."
In January, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that Russian President Putin "ordered an influence campaign" aimed at the U.S. presidential election, with goals including undermining faith in the U.S. democratic system, denigrating Clinton, and improving Trump's chances of winning the presidency in the November 8 vote.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, once again stated on July 12 that the Kremlin had no connection with Veselnitskaya and compared the accusations to "a long-running soap opera in which Moscow plays no part."
Russian real-estate mogul Aras Agalarov, who has been identified as a middleman in arranging the Veselnitskaya meeting, told Russia's Business FM radio station: "I think this is some sort of fiction. I don't know who is making it up."
He said he barely knew Rob Goldstone, the music publisher who first contacted Trump Jr. to arrange the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
In a post on Twitter on July 11, President Trump described his son as "a great person who loves our country."
Republicans in the Senate were more subdued. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would wait forSenate investigation to "get to the bottom of whatever happened." Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the latest e-mail revelations were "only part of the picture."
The Veselnitskaya meeting, and the e-mails, add to the evidence pointing to some sort of active Russian effort to meddle in the U.S. campaign. In January, the U.S. intelligence community released a report that outright accused Moscow of waging a cyber-and-propaganda effort to interfere in the election.
Since that time, multiple congressional committees have opened investigations into the question of Russian meddling.
The FBI, meanwhile, opened a criminal probe in July 2016 into whether Trump associates -- including Manafort -- had improper interactions with Russian officials.
But the man overseeing that investigation, James Comey, was fired in May by Trump, who later reportedly bragged to Russian officials that his firing had relieved "great pressure" on him about the Russian probe.
The uproar that ensued ultimately led to the Justice Department appointing a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigation.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., issued a statement on July 10 saying his client did nothing wrong and had promised to cooperate with investigators.