WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort’s notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included a mention of political contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.
The contents of the note, which have not been previously disclosed, elevated the significance of the June 2016 meeting for congressional investigators, who are focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.
It is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections. The meeting happened just as Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president, and he was considered a longshot to win. Manafort was the campaign chairman at the time.
Manafort’s notes, typed on a smart phone and described by one source briefed on the matter as cryptic, were turned over to the House and Senate intelligence committees and to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They contained a reference to political contributions and “RNC” in close proximity, the sources said.
NBC News initially reported that the notes contained the word “donation,” but a spokesman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa — the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose staff has reviewed the notes — disputed that the word “donation” appears. The two sources who initially provided the information then said that the word was not “donation.” One said it was “donor,” and another said it was a word that referenced political contributions, but that source declined to be more specific.
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni told NBC News that “it is 100 percent false to suggest this meeting included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party. Mr. Manafort provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with the facts and his notes so this speculation and conjecture is pointless and wrong.”
As NBC News has reported, Mueller is closely scrutinizing the Trump Tower meeting, which was hosted by President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and was attended by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with Manafort.
They gathered in an office to hear from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has represented clients with links to the Kremlin.
She was accompanied by Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who testified recently before a grand jury in Washington, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.
Akhmetshin declined to comment on his testimony.