Trump campaign–Russian meetings

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Members of the 2016 Trump campaign had several meetings with individuals who had or were perceived to have Russian connections.

On June 9, 2016, a meeting was held in Trump Tower in New York City between three senior members of the Donald Trump presidential campaign – Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort – and at least five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The meeting was arranged by publicist and long-time Trump acquantiance, Rob Goldstone on behalf of his client, singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov.[1] It was disclosed to U.S. government officials when Kushner filed a revised version of his security clearance form.[2]

Donald Trump Jr. initially told the press that the meeting was held to discuss adoptions of Russian children by Americans. On July 8, 2017, Trump Jr. tweeted that he agreed to the meeting with the understanding that he would receive information damaging to Hillary Clinton, and that he was conducting opposition research.[3] Goldstone had stated in his email that the Russian government was involved.[4] Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the Department of Justice in charge of Russia-related investigations, is investigating the emails and the meeting.[5]

Prior to that meeting, Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos met at least twice with a professor who said he had access to "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." This occurred before the hacking of the DNC computers had become public knowledge. At a meeting on March 21, 2016, the professor brought along a Russian woman. Papadopoulos also made multiple unsuccessful attempts to set up meetings in Russia between Trump or members of his campaign and Russian officials. He communicated his proposals and interactions to several Trump campaign officials.[6] In October 2017 he pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about his actions.

Background

On June 3, 2016, before the public was made aware of potential Russian interference in the presidential election,[7] Donald Trump Jr. was contacted by Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist whose association with the Trumps dates back to the Miss Universe 2013 pageant held in Moscow; at that time, Trump Jr.'s father, businessman Donald Trump, had been co-owner of the pageant.[8] Goldstone's client, Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani singer, performed at the Miss Universe event. His father, Aras Agalarov, is a wealthy real estate developer in Moscow.[9][10][11]

In his June 3 email to Trump Jr., Goldstone wrote:

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia[a] met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.[14]

Trump Jr. responded:

Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?[14]

In a June 7 email there was agreement that the material would be delivered to Trump Jr. by an unnamed "Russian government attorney".[14] At the meeting, Goldstone introduced this person as Moscow-based attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. She stated that she was not a government official,[14] however she is known to have ties to the Russian government.[15] According to Goldstone, she had planned to be in New York for a court appearance on June 9.[14] Trump Jr. offered an in-person meeting that afternoon, which Goldstone confirmed.[14] Trump Jr. forwarded the email thread to Kushner and Manafort.[1]

Trump Tower meeting, June 9, 2016

The arranged meeting took place at Trump Tower in the afternoon of June 9, 2016. At least eight people attended.[16] When the meeting first became known, conflicting accounts of who attended circulated. With time, more names came forward. At first, Donald Trump, Jr. did not disclose that Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, Rob Goldstone, and Anatoli Samachornov attended the meeting.[17]

Participants

Trump campaign officials

News report from Voice of America

Russian lobbyists

  • Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer best known in the United States for lobbying against the Magnitsky Act. In Moscow she is regarded as a "trusted insider" who has argued cases for government agencies and high-profile clients including Pyotr Katsyv, an official in the state-owned Russian Railways, and his son Denis, whom she defended against a money laundering charge in New York.[22][23]
  • Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected of "having ongoing ties to Russian Intelligence",[24][25] although he denies it.[24] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he immigrated to the United States in 1993 and became a U.S. citizen in 2009.[26][27] According to the New York Times, Akhmetshin has “a history of working for close allies of President Vladimir V. Putin.”[28][29]

Other participants

  • Rob Goldstone, the publicist of Emin Agalarov, who said that Agalarov asked him to contact Trump Jr. New York attorney Scott S. Balber, who was retained by Emin and Aras Agalarov, denied that Goldstone’s emails accurately outlined the origins of the meeting.[30]
  • Anatoli Samochornov, a translator for Veselnitskaya. In the past, Samochornov worked for Meridian International and did contract work for the U.S. State Department as an interpreter. Samochornov is not an employee of the State Department.[31]
  • Ike Kaveladze, a Georgian-American, US-based senior vice president at Crocus Group, the real estate development company run by Aras Agalarov. Kaveladze's lawyer Scott Balber, who also represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, stated that Kaveladze attended the meeting as the Agalarov family's emissary “just to make sure it happened and to serve as an interpreter if necessary.”[32][33]

Purpose

Trump Jr. initially told reporters that the meeting had been "primarily about adoptions".[2][34] He then released a statement saying it had been a "short introductory meeting" concerning "a program about the adoption of Russian children".[35] A few days later Trump Jr. acknowledged that he went into the meeting expecting to receive opposition research from Veselnitskaya that could hurt Clinton's campaign, adding that none was presented and that the conversation instead focused on the Magnitsky Act.[17][36] Later a statement from Trump Jr.'s lawyer said Veselnitskaya had claimed to have information "that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton" but "it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information".[37] Trump Jr. said he felt the adoption issue was her "true agenda all along" and the claims of helpful political information were a pretext.[38] After learning that the New York Times was about to publish the series of emails setting up the meeting, Trump Jr. himself published the email chain via Twitter, and explained that he considered the meeting to be "political opposition research".[14][39] He summarized the meeting as "such a nothing... a wasted 20 minutes".[40]

Veselnitskaya said that she intended to provide allegations to the Trump campaign about a firm connected to William Browder, a financier who lobbied for the Magnitsky Act. She said that the firm committed tax evasion in Russia and donated to Democrats.[41] She said in an interview, "I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that."[42] She initially denied the allegation that she was or is connected to the Russian government. At a later date she disclosed that she was in regular contact with the Russian Prosecutor General's office and with Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, about sharing information she acquired in her investigation relating to the Magnitsky Act.[41][42][43]

On July 14, Akhmetshin stated in an interview that Veselnitskaya had claimed to have evidence of "violations of Russian law by a Democratic donor", and added that she "described her findings at the meeting and left a document about them with Trump Jr. and the others."[26][44]

Disclosure timeline

On April 6, 2017, Kushner filed a revised security clearance form in which he reported a meeting with Veselnitskaya.[45] Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr. and Manafort were not required to disclose foreign contacts since they did not subsequently serve in the Trump administration.[46][2]

On July 8, 2017 The New York Times first reported the meeting with "a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin", arranged by Trump Jr. and including Kushner and Manafort. The information was attributed to "people familiar with the documents" and confirmed by representatives of Trump Jr. and Kushner.[2][34] On the same day, Trump Jr. released a statement saying the June 2016 meeting had been a "short introductory meeting" about adoption and "not a campaign issue".[2]

The next day it was further reported that emails setting up the meeting did not mention Russian adoptions or the Magnitsky Act; instead, Goldstone had told Trump Jr. the meeting would provide the Trump campaign with negative information about Clinton. Goldstone also wrote this offer was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump-helped along by Aras and Emin".[14][3][34] Trump Jr issued another statement in which he acknowledged that he had gone to the meeting expecting information about Hillary Clinton.[36]

On July 10, 2017, White House spokesperson Sanders said the president had learned of the meeting only "in the last couple of days".[47]

On July 11, it was reported that the original statement released by Trump Jr. on July 8 had been drafted by presidential advisers aboard Air Force One on the way home from the G20 summit in Germany, and that it had been approved by President Trump,[48] an account contradicted in a July 31 report by The Washington Post.[49]

Also on July 11, Trump Jr. posted the email chain leading up to the meeting on Twitter; a few minutes later The New York Times also published it.[50] In a statement accompanying the posted email, Trump Jr. asserted that he had wanted to just have a phone call but that didn't work out.[51] In an interview later in the day, Sean Hannity asked whether he had been given further details of the meeting in any phone calls, and Trump Jr. again asserted that such phone calls had not taken place and it had all been email coordination.[52] He would later, in a September 7 statement, acknowledge that three such phone calls had in fact taken place before the meeting.[53] Over the next few days the identity of the attendees was established.[16]

On July 12, President Trump gave an interview with Reuters where he reiterated that he had only known about the meeting for "a couple of days" and that "many people would have held that meeting".[54] Trump Jr. gave an interview to Fox News's Sean Hannity in which he denied having told his father about the meeting.[40] President Trump praised his son Donald Jr. for his transparency, and claimed that they were victims of a "political witch hunt".[55][56]

On July 13, Corey Lewandowski was interviewed on MSNBC's Meet the Press. When asked why he was not invited to the meeting, he claimed that he and Trump were at a rally in Florida on the date of the June 9, 2016 meeting. In fact, there was no rally in Florida.[57] Instead, Trump was at a Trump Victory fundraising lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, two blocks from Trump Tower. At 1:02 PM, Trump left the lunch and returned to Trump Tower, "where he remained for the rest of the afternoon". According to emails, the meeting was scheduled for 4:00 PM.[58]

Although the email chain describes Natalia Veselnitskaya as a "Russian government attorney",[14] Scott Balber, attorney for the Agalarovs, said in a July 14, 2017 interview that Veselnitskaya has no association with the Russian government.[59] For his part, Akhmetshin denied having ties to Russian intelligence, and said that the efforts by Veselnitskaya and himself "were not coordinated with the Russian government."[26] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian government didn't know Akhmetshin or Veselnitskaya, or anything about the meeting.[60][61]

On July 31, The Washington Post reported that the version released by Trump Jr. on July 8 was actually produced by his father on Air Force One, on the way back to the USA from the Group of 20 summit in Germany. The report said that President Trump had "overruled the consensus" of Trump Jr, Kushner, aides, and lawyers, who favored issuing "transparent" reports "because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge." The Post reported that Trump personally dictated, worked on, and released a version in Trump Jr's name with claims which "were later shown to be misleading". Some advisors reportedly feared "that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup."[49][62][63]

On August 1, at the next day's White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that Trump "certainly didn't dictate, but ... he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do".[64]

On September 7, in a closed-door interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. contradicted his prior statements about not having had any phone calls with Agalarov in advance of the meeting,[51][52] acknowledging for the first time that phone records showed three short phone calls with Agalarov prior to the meeting.[53]

On October 9, CNN reported that Scott S. Balber, formerly a lawyer for Donald Trump and now Agalarov's lawyer, obtained the memo which Veselnitskaya took to the meeting.[65] Subsequently, Foreign Policy published the full memo.[66] According to the memo, an American firm Ziff Brothers Investments illegally evaded tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes and contributed stolen money to election campaign of Mrs. Clinton. This accusation was coordinated by Veselnitskaya in advance with Yuri Chaika and repeated later by Putin[67]

Reactions

Congressional reactions

Democratic Representatives Brad Sherman and Al Green sponsored a resolution to impeach President Trump. Sherman argued that Trump Jr.'s emails "add credibility" to the theory that Trump dismissed James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an attempt to derail the ongoing investigation.[68]

On July 10, 2017, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, stated that "This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior level members of the Trump campaign meeting Russians to try to obtain information that might hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton".[69] Warner also stated that the incident was part of a "continuing pattern" in which Trump officials and members of the Trump campaign have "conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians only when they are then presented with evidence, they have to recant and acknowledge those kind of meetings".[70] Another member of the committee, the Republican Susan Collins, stated that Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended the meeting should testify before the committee.[71] Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, described the matter as "a very serious development," and that "It all warrants thorough investigation. Everyone who was in that meeting ought to come before our committee."[71]

Republicans in Congress have been for the most part muted with their comments about the event.[72] On July 10, 2017, Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) when asked in an interview if he thought it was appropriate for Trump Jr. to take a meeting with a Russian national, responded that he "probably would have done the same thing” calling it “opposition research."[72][73] On July 11, 2017, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) suggested that "the president’s son may have been “duped” into attending the meeting".[72][74]

Other reactions

The meeting was regarded by some commentators as evidence of attempted collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.[75][76][77]

A statement issued by Mark Corallo, former spokesperson for Trump's legal team, suggested that the meeting was a "setup" and that Veselnitskaya and her translator had “misrepresented who they were”. He implied that the Russian lawyer was connected to the Clintons through British ex-spy Christopher Steele.[78]

Investigations

Congressional investigation

The Senate Intelligence Committee held a private hearing with Kushner on July 24. In the meeting he responded to questions by the Committee about his contacts with Russian officials and insisted that he had not colluded with foreign agents. He publicly released an 11-page written statement detailing four meetings he had with Russian officials during the campaign and transition periods, including the Trump Tower meeting.[79] He said he had not known all the details about that meeting because he did not read all of the email chain that Trump Jr. had forwarded to him.[80] The Intelligence Committee also met privately with Manafort on July 25.[81]

The Committee on the Judiciary scheduled a hearing on July 26 on the subject "Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections: Lessons Learned from Current and Prior Administrations".[82] Trump Jr. and Manafort were originally scheduled to testify at that hearing, but each negotiated to meet privately with the committee on July 25 instead. They have also arranged to turn over requested documents to the committee. Among the documents Manafort turned over to congressional investigators were notes he took during the June 2016 meeting.[83][84] Manafort and Trump Jr. are expected to testify in public eventually.[80] William Browder testified before the Committee on the Judiciary on July 27, claiming that Veselnitskaya was representing the Kremlin's interests in the meeting, which was arranged for persuading the future lifting of the Magnistky Act.[85]

On September 7, 2017, Donald Trump Jr. testified privately under questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee staffers. The New York Times reported that in his testimony, Trump Jr. acknowledged he had indeed sought the meeting in the hopes to obtain information about Clinton's "fitness".[86]

Special counsel investigation

As of July 2017, Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the Department of Justice in charge of Russia-related investigations, was looking into the Trump Tower meeting.[5] The inquiry was confirmed by Kaveladze's attorney, who said special counsel investigators are seeking information from his client.[32] On July 21, 2017, Mueller asked the White House to preserve all documents related to the Russian meeting in June 2016.[87] By August 3, 2017, Mueller had impaneled a grand jury in the District of Columbia that issued subpoenas concerning the meeting.[88]

George Papadopoulous meetings

The Statement of Facts of Guilt, filed October 5, 2017, and unsealed October 30, 2017, showing the facts admitted by Papadopoulos as part of his guilty plea

Papadopoulos joined Donald Trump's presidential campaign in early March 2016 as a foreign policy advisor.[89] Within two weeks he was approached by a London-based professor with Russian connections, later identified as Joseph Mifsud.[90] Mifsud told him the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." The two met on March 14 and 21, 2016. At the March 21 meeting Mifsud brought along an unidentified Russian woman.[91] This occurred before there was public knowledge of the hack of Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta's emails, both of which U.S. intelligence agencies believe were carried out by Russia.[92]

Papadopoulos sent emails concerning Vladimir Putin to at least seven campaign officials. Trump national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis[93] encouraged Papadopoulos to fly to Russia to meet with agents of the Russian Foreign Ministry, after being told that Russia had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton it wanted to share with Trump's campaign.[94][95]

Between March and September 2016, Papadopoulos made at least six requests for Trump or representatives of his campaign to meet in Russia with Russian politicians. In May, campaign chairman Paul Manafort forwarded one such request to his deputy Rick Gates, saying "We need someone to communicate that (Trump) is not doing these trips. It should be someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal." Gates delegated the task to the campaign’s correspondence coordinator, referring to him as "the person responding to all mail of non-importance."[94][96][97]

Papadopoulos was arrested at Washington Dulles Airport on July 27, 2017, and he has since been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation.[95] On October 5, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to making false statements to FBI agents relating to contacts he had with agents of the Russian government while working for the Trump campaign.[98][99] Papadopoulos's arrest and guilty plea became public on October 30, 2017, when court documents showing the guilty plea were unsealed.[100]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Crown prosecutor is not an office that exists in Russia; Goldstone is likely referring to the Prosecutor General of Russia here. The position has been held by Yury Chaika since 2006.[12][13]

References

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