Trump's legal team blames Democrats for setting up the meeting between his campaign and a Russian lawyer

President Donald Trump's outside legal team has changed their defense against a New York Times report which said his son and top members of his campaign team met with a Russian lawyer with strong ties to the Kremlin in June 2016.

The meeting was between Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign manager at the time.

Veselnitskaya waged a harsh campaign against the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which blacklisted Russians suspected of human-rights abuses. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the law "outrageous" and retaliated by blocking Americans from adopting Russian children.

The Trump campaign's meeting with Veselnitskaya was only recently disclosed to government officials, when Kushner filed a revised security clearance form after The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials before joining the Trump administration.

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US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 7, 2017: Melania Trump (L), First Lady of the United States, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit. Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA), Donald Trump, President of the USA (C) meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA) Donald Trump, President of the USA (left), meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (right), at the opening of the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Steffen Kugler /BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: International leaders attend the group photo on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to the US first lady Melania Trump (R) as they attend a state banquet in the Elbphilarmonie concert Hall on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. . (Photo by Felipe Trueba - Pool / Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: World leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Leaders of the G20 group of nations are meeting for the July 7-8 summit. Topics high on the agenda for the summit include climate policy and development programs for African economies. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a family photo along with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S.President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazilian President Michel Temer, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Senegal's President Macky Sall, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Saudi Arabia Minister of State Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Secretary Jose Angel Gurria, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director Roberto Azevedo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director Guy Ryder, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Financial Stability Board (FSB) President Mark Carney and other leaders at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and other leaders pose for a family photo at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to Melania Trump during the official dinner at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kay Nietfeld,Pool
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C-R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C-L) hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump Jr. initially said the meeting had been to discuss the adoption program. "It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by," Trump Jr. said in a statement to The Times. "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 the time and there was no follow up."

The Times reported late Sunday afternoon, however, that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about then-candidate Hillary Clinton when he agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya.

In a statement released hours after The Times published its first story on Saturday, Trump's legal team painted the meeting as part of a Democratic effort to use Russian operatives to undermine the Trump campaign.

"We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for," Mark Corallo, a spokesperson for Trump's team, said in the statement. "Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier," he continued.

After the Times published its second story on Sunday, Corallo said only that "the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting."

The Steele dossier is an unverified report compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele which contains damning and at times salacious allegations about Trump and his ties to the Kremlin. Fusion GPS was the firm that retained Steele.

There is no evidence that Veselnitskaya is connected to Fusion GPS, but there have been unconfirmed reports in conservative media circles that Fusion's CEO, Glenn Simpson, was hired by Veselnitskaya's client, Denis Katsyv, as part of a team tasked with lobbying government officials to repeal the Magnitsky Act.

Katsyv is the son of senior Russian government official Pyotr Katsyv and owner of the Cyprus-incorporated real-estate company Prevezon, which was being investigated by the Department of Justice at the time of the meeting over money laundering charges. Simpson has denied the rumors about him.

The Prevezon case, which was settled for approximately $6 million in May, garnered high-profile attention given its ties to the $230 million Russian tax-fraud scheme uncovered by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death aroused international media attention in November 2009.

Magnitsky uncovered the scheme, which became one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin's presidency, in 2008 on behalf of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital. Magnitsky was later thrown in jail and died in custody, and an independent human-rights commission found he had been illegally arrested and beaten. The Kremlin maintains that Magnitsky died of a heart attack.

The founder of Hermitage, William Browder, sought justice for Magnitsky in the US and Europe after Magnitsky died. In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act.

Browder said in an interview on Saturday that fighting against the Magnitsky Act was Veselnitskaya's "main project last year. And "there was no obvious reason," Browder said, for Veselnitskaya and her team to engage in this lobbying "as part of their defense for Prevezon."

"It wouldn't have helped the company address the money laundering allegations mounted by the US Department of Justice," Browder said. "The only reason for them to do this would have been at the behest of the Russian government."

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