To hear Donald Trump Jr. tell it, the enthusiasm he expressed after being offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton in June 2016 was neither enthusiasm nor anything he remembers having shared with anyone. Trump Jr. has always been cagey about the days leading up to that meeting — what he knew, who he spoke with, etc. — and that caginess continued into his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last September. (The committee released that testimony on Wednesday morning.)
Despite Trump Jr.’s vagueness about who he spoke with before the meeting, though, investigators did suss out a pattern that suggests strongly that Trump Jr. spoke with both Emin Agalarov (the Russian musician who initiated the idea of the meeting) and other campaign staffers before the meeting itself.
Why is that period important? Because it’s a period during which the understanding of the meeting was that it was meant to share negative information about candidate Donald Trump’s political opponent offered by the Russian government. Understanding that the offer at hand was dirt from the Russian government and acquiescing to it is a red flag for questions of coordination, and the newly released testimony hints that Trump Jr. spoke with Agalarov, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign adviser Jared Kushner about the matter before the meeting.
Which raises another important question: Did someone also loop in Donald Trump himself?
A critical part of this question is the extent to which Trump Jr. was aware of the purported focus of the meeting. You will recall that Trump Jr. got an email from music publicist Rob Goldstone on June 3, 2016, in which he describes having been asked by his client Emin Agalarov — both a developer and a musician — to reach out about “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” being provided as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. famously replied, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” That’s a big if, and Trump Jr. proposed a call with Agalarov seemingly to nail down whether the information was worth his time.
This article has been updated.
It has never been determined for certain that Agalarov and Trump Jr. actually spoke on the phone before the meeting was set up. We know that on June 6, a Monday, Trump Jr. and Goldstone shared several emails hinting at a conversation between Trump Jr. and Agalarov and that on June 7 the meeting was set up. In a prepared statement, Trump Jr. claimed not to remember whether he spoke to Agalarov.
“My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.”
Thanks to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning, though, we now have a much better sense of whether the calls happened. Here’s a timeline, sussed out by committee interrogators.
- June 3, 10:53 a.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. … Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?”
- June 3, 11:09 a.m.: Goldstone emails Agalarov. “He wants to speak personally on the issue with you early next week.”
- June 3, 11:26 a.m.: Agalarov emails Goldstone. “Great.”
- June 6, 8:44 a.m.: Agalarov emails Goldstone. “Trumps son call. Any news?”
- June 6, 8:51 a.m.: Goldstone emails Agalarov. “Not yet but he said when he returns to NYC which for sure is after tomorrow as it’s the Super Tuesday final elections tomorrow in California where trump will be “crowned” the official nominee[.] Most likely he will return Wednesday and I will set up call “
- June 6, 9:00 a.m.: Agalarov emails Goldstone. “Ok”
- June 6, 12:40 a.m.: Goldstone emails Trump Jr. “Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary Info — you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try to schedule a time and day”
- June 6, 3:03 p.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “Rob could we speak now?”
- June 6, 3:37 p.m.: Goldstone emails Trump Jr. “Let me track him down in Moscow[.] What number he could call? “
- June 6, 3:38 p.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “My cell” (the number is redacted)
- June 6, 3:43 p.m.: Goldstone contacts Agalarov’s band manager Pavel Klychko and then emails Trump Jr. “Ok he’s on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 Minutes so I am sure can call”
- June 6, 4:04 p.m.: Agalarov calls Trump Jr. Call logs suggest that the call lasts between 60 seconds and two minutes.
- June 6, 4:27 p.m.: Trump Jr. is in contact with a blocked number. It lasts for four minutes. It’s not clear if the call was outgoing or incoming; the testimony suggests that it was incoming but a report from Senate Democrats suggests it was outgoing. (The phone records are redacted in the documents released on Wednesday.)
- June 6, 4:31 p.m.: Trump Jr. calls Agalarov. The call lasts for three minutes.
- June 6, 4:38 p.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “Rob thanks for the help.”
Notice what Trump Jr. doesn’t say in that email at 4:38 p.m.: that he was unable to reach Agalarov. Agalarov calls at 4:04 p.m., and Trump Jr. returns that call at 4:31 p.m. — almost immediately after getting off the phone with someone at a blocked number.
The Senate committee asked about that call.
“Does your father used a blocked number on his cellphone or on any phones that you call him on?” Trump Jr. was asked. He said he didn’t know. In testimony before the committee, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified that Donald Trump’s residence has a blocked phone number. Last month, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported that Senate Republicans declined to subpoena records to identify the other participant on that blocked call.
- June 7, 12:44 p.m.: Agalarov calls Trump Jr. The call lasts two minutes.
- June 7, 4:07 p.m.: Trump Jr. calls Paul Manafort. Trump Jr. tells investigators that he doesn’t remember speaking to Manafort.
- June 7, 4:20 p.m.: Goldstone emails Trump Jr. “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday. I believe you are aware of the meeting — and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?” In his testimony before the Senate committee, Goldstone likely spoke to Agalarov within an hour of sending his next email to Trump Jr. because “Emin was very short on patience.”
- June 7, 4:28 p.m.: Trump Jr. calls Paul Manafort again. Trump Jr. doesn’t recall this conversation either.
- June 7, around 4:45 p.m.: Trump Jr. calls Jared Kushner. Asked about the back-to-back calls with Kushner and Manafort, Trump Jr. told the committee “that was something that could happen every day on the campaign.”
- June 7, 5:16 p.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.”
It’s hard to read that timeline and not assume that Trump Jr. both spoke about the meeting with Manafort and Kushner and that he worked with them to finalize the time that it could happen. The emails Trump Jr. provided to the Senate committee include one from June 8 in which Trump Jr. tells Manafort that the “[m]eeting got moved to 4 tomorrow at my offices.”
There is no prior email provided in which he informs Manafort that the meeting was set to be at 3 p.m.
On the evening of June 7, candidate Trump gave a speech in which he teased an upcoming speech.
“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” Trump tells the audience after winning several primaries. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
Investigators asked Trump Jr. whether his father knew about the meeting when he made those comments. Trump Jr. said he didn’t. Asked whether anyone else might have told Trump about the upcoming meeting, Trump Jr. said he didn’t know.
(Trump Jr. was also asked about the similarity of Trump’s description of what he planned to speak about — “very, very interesting” — with Goldstone’s initial pitch to Trump Jr., which called the material “very interesting.” Trump Jr. said this was “just a coincidence” and that this was “the way my father speaks.”)
We’re asked to believe, then, that only Trump Jr. knew what had been promised by Goldstone before the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower and that the following things are unexplained coincidences:
- That Trump Jr. and Agalarov left each other long voice-mail messages on June 6 and June 7 but may never have spoken.
- That Trump Jr. called Agalarov back on June 6 right after participating in a call with someone at a blocked number, but that he doesn’t remember who he spoke with in that call.
- That Trump Jr. was asked to finalize a time for the meeting, spoke with Manafort and Kushner, replied to Goldstone with a time — but that he might not have raised the meeting with Manafort and Kushner.
- That Trump referred to dirt on Clinton hours after the meeting was arranged but that the candidate may not have been aware of it, despite his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman having likely discussed it.
We are also asked to believe in another bit of his testimony that Trump Jr. didn’t really “love” the idea of the dirt offered by Goldstone. Saying he “loved it” was “simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’ s gesture,” Trump Jr. said.
You may assess these claims as you see fit.
This article was updated with more information about the blocked calls.