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Transcripts give peek inside Trump Tower meeting

Grassley's Senate Judiciary Committee releases thousands of records

Donald J. Trump, Jr.
Donald J. Trump, Jr.
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As Donald Trump Jr. greeted his Russian-speaking guests in a conference room high atop Trump Tower in June 2016, he cut to the chase.

“I believe you have some information for us,” Trump Jr. said to a Russian lawyer visiting from Moscow, according to one of the attendees.

He had been expecting dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton provided as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s presidential campaign — “potential information about an opponent,” he told congressional investigators, according to documents released Wednesday by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

Also anticipating damaging information on Clinton was Rob Goldstone, the promoter for a Russian pop star, who had set up the meeting.

“I expected there to be something that would make people react,” he told the committee.

Instead, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya droned on about a 2012 law known as the Magnitsky Act that had imposed sanctions on Russia for human rights abuses and has been a particular vexation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The details of the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower are drawn from 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits that paint a vivid picture of how Donald Trump’s erstwhile Russian business partners collided with his presidential campaign in a single 20-minute campaign meeting that has been a key focus of investigations by three congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller III.

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The information in the transcripts is unlikely to shift public perceptions of the meeting. Republicans will point to the hours of testimony to argue Trump Jr. might have been unwise to accept the meeting but that he did not collude with the Russian government.

Democrats will say the episode shows Trump Jr. was willing to accept Russian help, prompting deep questions about his father’s election.

But the documents provide the public’s best understanding yet about the events that led up to the meeting, as well as the anxiety sparked in President Donald Trump’s orbit a year later when the meeting became public knowledge and contradicted Trump claims that no one on his campaign had interacted with Russians.

The roots of the Trump Tower meeting can be found three years earlier, when the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant was held in Moscow, financed by Russian billionaire developer Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, a pop singer.

During a boisterous planning meeting in Las Vegas and then over a weekend in Moscow, Trump became friendly with the Russian father-and-son duo, as well as Goldstone, Emin Agalarov’s British manager.

Trump pushed repeatedly for the Agalarovs to get him a meeting with Putin in connection with the pageant, Goldstone testified. An Agalarov employee told the committee his boss tried to make the meeting happen, “secretly” requesting it through a Russian government employee.

At first, it looked as if Putin would accommodate Trump. But then the Russian president canceled.

While in Moscow, Trump attended a reception at the Nobu restaurant, where someone asked him his view on Russia. “I remember him saying specifically, ‘You have a very strong leader. Our leader is weak,’” Goldstone recalled. Asked to whom Trump was referring, Goldstone said: “President Obama.”

Following the pageant, Trump’s new Russian friends stayed in touch. In May 2015, the month before Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency, Goldstone brought Emin Agalarov to see the businessman in New York, where the men posed for photos.

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“Maybe next time, I’ll be hosting you guys in the White House,” Goldstone recalled Trump saying.

From Russia, the Agalarovs tracked the campaign. As Super Tuesday approached, Aras Agalarov wrote Trump of his appreciation for the candidate’s campaign trail statement that “the U.S. and Russia should work together more closely.”

By June 2016, Trump had clinched the Republican nomination.

That’s when Emin Agalarov asked Goldstone to set the meeting for the Russian lawyer. Agalarov told Goldstone the lawyer was “well-connected.” He also said she would bring “damaging information” about Democrats and Clinton, Goldstone recalled.

Goldstone testified he immediately told Agalarov he believed the meeting was a bad idea.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter. You just have to get the meeting,’” Goldstone recalled.

So Goldstone wrote Trump Jr. an enticing email. The lawyer, he wrote, had “very high level and sensitive information” that was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Trump Jr. responded: “if it’s what you say I love it,” and moved to schedule time and invite Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman.

Besides Goldstone, Agalarov sent a U.S.-based employee, Ike Kaveladze. A Clinton supporter, Kaveladze testified he considered backing out when he got wind that it was intended to hurt the Democrat’s campaign.

Also at the meeting was Rinat Akhmetshin, a veteran of a Soviet counterintelligence unit who is now a lobbyist.

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Trump Jr. told the Senate committee he did not remember Akhmetshin’s presence. Others, though, remembered that he showed up wearing hot pink jeans and a hot pink shirt.

By consensus, the meeting did not go well. Trump Jr. said it was such a waste of time that he never bothered to inform his father.

By June 2017, when Trump was president and Mueller was investigating Russian interference in the election, Trump’s associates became concerned the year-old meeting would become public.

The lawyers are “concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia — which he has always denied meeting,” Goldstone wrote in an email to Emin Agalarov.

Soon after, the New York Times reported the meeting, and lawyers and meeting participants scrambled to come up with an explanation.

President Trump contributed to an initial statement about the meeting, Trump Jr. told the committee. It misleadingly stated that it had been “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children by Americans. His statement did not mention the sanctions law or the offer of dirt on Clinton.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.