Video has emerged of US President Donald Trump dining with the high-profile Russians embroiled in the email scandal that has engulfed his son and the White House in recent days.
CNN, which obtained the video exclusively, reported the get-together happened in Las Vegas in June 2013.
The footage shows Mr Trump dining with members of the Agalarov family – the Azerbaijani-Russian family named as the source of potentially damaging information about Mr Trump’s election opponent.
The dinner also includes the Agalarov family’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, identified as the person who approached Donald Trump Jr about the information in June 2016 – in the middle of the election campaign.
The video is being seen as proof of the extent of the connection between Mr Trump, Mr Goldstone, and the Agalarov family, who claimed to have had dirt on Ms Clinton.
In emails released by Donald Trump Jr this week, Mr Goldstone promises the younger Trump “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” as part of a larger Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.
Donald Trump Jr responded: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
While he downplayed the meeting that eventually took place between him and Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the emails are being interpreted as the most concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials welcomed Russian help to win the 2016 election – the subject of two separate investigations.
The business relationship reportedly started between Mr Trump and the Agalarov family in 2013, when Mr Trump signed a deal with father and son, Aras and Emin Agalarov, to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
The video shows Mr Trump and the Agalarovs dining and socialising before the official announcement of the new business deal.
“The women now are beautiful,” Mr Trump says to the guests, when referring to contestants at one point.
“When you see Miss Universe you won’t even believe it.”
Watch the Trump video and CNN report
WATCH: CNN-obtained video shows Donald Trump with associates tied to email controversy https://t.co/8WTr497Txp
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 12, 2017
‘Something happened’: Trump admits to interference
Meanwhile, Mr Trump has told Reuters that he only found about his son’s meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya two days ago, but has sensationally admitted that he believes “something happened” in relation to interference in the 2016 campaign.
The President told Reuters that he had directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent G20 summit if he was involved in what US intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of a two-hour meeting with Mr Putin in Germany last week dealing with the alleged meddling in the election.
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said ‘absolutely not’,” Mr Trump said.
When he was asked if he believed Mr Putin’s denial, he said: “Look, something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process.”
Impeachment process begins
In another development, a Californian congressman has filed an article of impeachment against Mr Trump in a long-shot bid to remove the President from office.
House Democrat Brad Sherman alleges Mr Trump has obstructed investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, in part by firing former FBI director James Comey.
Congressman Sherman’s effort has little chance of success in the Republican-led House and he does not even have the backing of many fellow Democrats.
CNN commentator Z. Byron Wolf agreed the nation was “a long, long, long way from a real impeachment effort”.
Wolf said while the Donald Trump Jr. emails were an “explosive” development, “no definite collusion has been shown”.
– with AAP