According to his own account, which the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Wednesday, along with lots of other materials from its Russia investigation, Rob Goldstone, the fifty-seven-year-old English music publicist who helped arrange the notorious Trump Tower meeting that took place on June 9, 2016, believed it was a mistake from the get-go. On June 3, 2016, Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop singer whom Goldstone represented, called up Goldstone and asked him to “contact the Trumps” and set up a meeting with a “connected” Russian attorney, who had just passed “some interesting information” to his father, Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire with ties to the Kremlin.
Goldstone, a streetwise Lancastrian who left school at sixteen to train as a journalist, was taken aback. “I made a flip remark,” he told Patrick Davis, a senior counsel for the Committee. “I said, connected like as into the power grid? Like connected to what? And he said, connected.” Goldstone then asked Emin about the nature of the information that had been passed to his father. “Emin simply said that all he knew was that there was some potentially damaging information re: Hillary, which could be of interest to the Trumps,” Goldstone told Davis. “The words he used were, ‘the Trumps.’ ”
“At the time of the call, did you believe setting up this meeting was a good idea?” Davis asked Goldstone.
“I said, in the call at the end, that I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it,” Goldstone replied. “And I gave the reason for that being that I am a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about. And I said, neither do you and neither does your father. And the answer was simply, I’m only asking you to get a meeting.”
A bit later in the day, when Goldstone e-mailed Trump, Jr.—whom he had dealt with in the past, when Emin performed at a Trump golf course—he kept to himself any concerns he may have had. “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,” Goldstone wrote. “What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?”
Seventeen minutes after Goldstone sent his e-mail, Trump, Jr., replied: “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?” Six days later, Goldstone was sitting in Trump Tower with Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, the connected Russian attorney (Natalia Veselnitskaya), her interpreter, and two other Russians—one who worked for Aras Agalarov, and another who had once been a counterintelligence officer in the Soviet military.
If this were the plot of an airport thriller written before 2016, it would never have been published. (A pop-music promoter? Please.) But the Trump Tower meeting is now a topic of endless conjecture, as well as one of the focal points of Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller has indicated to Trump’s attorneys that he wants to ask the President about the meeting, and about his role in the composition of a misleading statement that Trump, Jr., put out last summer, after the meeting’s existence was revealed.
The newly released documents include testimony from five of the people who were there on June 9, 2016: Trump, Jr.; Goldstone; Irakly (Ike) Kaveladze, the employee of the Agalarovs; Rinat Akhmetshin, the consultant; and Anatoli Samochornov, the interpreter for Veselnitskaya. In addition, the Judiciary Committee released brief notes from the meeting that Manafort took on his phone, and written answers to its questions from Veselnitskaya.
The documents support Trump, Jr.,’s claim that the Russians didn’t actually deliver any actionable dirt on Clinton or her campaign. Confirming previously published accounts, the participants said Veselnitskaya spent much of her time talking about the purported evils of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 piece of legislation that banned certain Russian individuals from entering the United States or using the U.S. banking system, and Bill Browder, a U.S.-born hedge-fund manager who campaigned for the bill’s passage.
According to the testimony, she also mentioned an alleged Russian tax-evasion scheme involving the Ziff brothers, who had donated to the Clinton Foundation but also to Republican causes. Goldstone told the Committee that on his way out of the meeting he apologized to Trump, Jr., saying, “I’m really embarrassed by this meeting. I don’t know what that was about.”
So much for the Trump defense. But the transcripts, including Trump, Jr.,’s own testimony, which he gave on September 7th of last year, also confirm that the Trump camp was eager to hear out their Russian visitors and find out what damaging information they had to offer. To put it another way, the documents strongly suggest that the Trumps—or at least Trump, Jr.—were almost certainly willing to collude with the Russians if they really had the goods on Clinton.
Heather Sawyer, a counsel for Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Committee, zeroed in on Trump, Jr.,’s e-mail reply to Goldstone, the one in which he said “if it’s what you say I love it,” and agreed to talk with Emin. “What was the ‘it’ that you loved in that e-mail?” Sawyer asked. After his counsel objected to the question, Trump, Jr., went ahead and answered it. This is what he said:
A: “Potential information about an opponent.”
Q: “Potential incriminating information on Hillary Clinton?”
Q: “And what about the thing that says, ‘It is part of Russia and its
government’s support for Mr . Trump.’ Did you also love that?”
A: “I don’t know. I don’t recall.”
Q. “Did you understand that that would be problematic?”
A. “I didn’t think that listening to someone with information relevant
to the fitness and character of a Presidential candidate would be an
The transcripts also raise serious questions about whether Trump, Jr., was telling the truth when he told the Judiciary Committee that he didn’t inform his father in advance about the Trump Tower meeting. At 4:04 p.m. on June 6, 2016, three days before the meeting, according to telephone records that the Committee obtained, Trump, Jr., spoke briefly with Emin Agalarov, who had just completed a show in Moscow. At 4:27 p.m., he had a four-minute call with someone whose number was blocked. At 4:31 p.m., immediately after that conversation, he called Emin again and spoke for three minutes.
“Does your father use a blocked number on his cell phone or on any phones that you call him on?” Sawyer asked Trump, Jr.
“I don’t know,” he replied.