Trump campaign–Russian meeting

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On June 9, 2016, a meeting was held in Trump Tower in New York City between three senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump – 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 Rob Goldstone on behalf of Emin Agalarov;[1] The Trumps knew both Goldstone and the Agalarovs from the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow.[2] The meeting was disclosed to U.S. government officials when Jared Kushner filed a revised version of his security clearance form.[3]

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.[4] Goldstone had stated in his email that the Russian government was involved.[5] Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the Department of Justice in charge of Russia-related investigations, is investigating the emails and the meeting.[6] As part of this investigation a congressional hearing has been scheduled for July 26, 2017 in which Trump Jr. and Manafort will appear while Kushner will testify in a separate closed session.[7]

Invitation

Donald Trump Jr.'s email exchange with Rob Goldstone

On June 3, 2016, before the public was made aware of potential Russian interference in the presidential election,[8] Donald J. 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 businessman Donald J. Trump had been co-owner of the pageant.[2] 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 it was agreed 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]

Meeting

The arranged meeting took place at Trump Tower in the afternoon of June 9, 2016. At least eight people attended.[16]

Participants

Trump campaign officials

  • Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, and architect of his digital, online and social media campaigns.[17]
  • Donald Trump Jr., eldest son of Donald Trump, active in the presidential campaign[19] as a key political aide and advisor to his father.[20]

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.[21][22]
  • Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected of "having ongoing ties to Russian Intelligence",[23][24] although he denies it.[23] After the fall of the Soviet Union, he immigrated to the United States in 1993 and became a U.S. citizen in 2009.[25][26]

Other participants

  • Rob Goldstone, the publicist of Emin Agalarov, who said that Agalarov asked him to contact Trump Jr. New York attorney Scott Balber, who was retained by Emin and Aras Agalarov, denied that Goldstone’s emails accurately outlined the origins of the meeting.[27]
  • 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.[28]
  • Ike Kaveladze is a Russian-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.”[29][30]

Purpose

Trump Jr. initially told the New York Times that the meeting had been "primarily about adoptions".[3][31] He then released a statement saying it had been a "short introductory meeting" concerning "a program about the adoption of Russian children";[32] it was later reported that the statement had been drafted by presidential advisors aboard Air Force One and personally approved by President Trump.[33] Next 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 focused on the Magnitsky Act and the adoption of Russian children.[34] Later a statement from Trump Jr.'s lawyer said Veselnitskaya offered 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."[35] Trump Jr. says he felt the adoption issue was her "true agenda all along" and the claims of helpful political information were a pretext.[36] When he was informed that the New York Times was about to publish the email chain leading up to the meeting, he tweeted the full emails himself, describing his motive in attending as "Political Opposition Research".[14] He summarized the meeting as "such a nothing... a wasted 20 minutes".[37]

Veselnitskaya told The Wall Street Journal 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.[38] She told MSNBC, "I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that."[39] 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.[38][39][40]

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."[25][41]

Disclosure

Officials became aware of the meeting in spring 2017, when Kushner reported meeting Veselnitskaya in an addendum to his security clearance paperwork.[42] Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr. and Manafort were not required to disclose foreign contacts, because as they did not subsequently serve in the Trump administration they did not require security clearance.[43][3]

The meeting with "a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin", arranged by Trump Jr. and including Kushner and Manafort, was first reported on July 8, 2017 by The New York Times. The information was cited to "people familiar with the documents" and confirmed by representatives of Trump Jr. and Kushner.[3][31] 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".[14][4][31] 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. [44] Over the next few days the identity of the attendees was established.[16]

Reactions

On July 10, 2017, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president had learned of the meeting only "in the last couple of days".[45] 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".[46] Trump Jr. gave an interview to Fox News's Sean Hannity in which he denied having told his father about the meeting.[37]

President Trump praised his son Donald Jr. for his transparency, and claimed that they are victims of a "political witch hunt".[47][48]

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, while Aras Agalarov knew Natalia Veselnitskaya, she had no association with the Russian government.[49] For his part, Akhmetshin‎ denied having ties to Russian intelligence, and said that the efforts by Natalia Veselnitskaya and him "were not coordinated with the Russian government."[25] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian government didn't know Akhmetshin or Veselnitskaya, or anything about the meeting.[50][51]

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.[52]

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".[53] 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".[54] 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.[55] 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."[55]

Republicans in congress have been for the most part muted with their comments about the event.[56] 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.” He further stated, "Keep in mind, she wasn't an official for the Russian government, the way I understand it. She's a lawyer, a Russian lawyer, and if somebody comes to us and says, 'Hey, we've got information on an opponent,' yeah I think that's an appropriate thing to do."[56][57] On July 11, 2017, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) suggested that "the president’s son may have been “duped” into attending the meeting".[56][58]

On July 19, 2017, the Senate Intelligence Committee scheduled a private hearing for Kushner to be held July 24. The Committee on the Judiciary scheduled a public hearing for July 26 at which Trump Jr. and Manafort will testify. The hearing's subject is "Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections: Lessons Learned from Current and Prior Administrations".[7]

Special counsel investigation

Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the Department of Justice in charge of Russia-related investigations, is looking into the meeting.[6] The inquiry was confirmed by Kaveladze's attorney, who said special counsel investigators are seeking information from his client.[29] On July 21, 2017, Mueller asked the White House to preserve all documents related to the Russian meeting in June.[59]

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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