“This is everything,” Trump Jr. affirmed. “This is everything.”
It was not everything. Over the next 13 months, more details about that meeting involving Trump Jr., brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort emerged, some of it despite Trump Jr.’s apparent attempts at obfuscation.
In light of that, we decided to walk through everything we know about the origins of that meeting, what happened during the meeting and the aftermath, and how it became public.
Before the meeting
Everything began with an email Trump Jr. received from an acquaintance named Rob Goldstone. Goldstone is a publicist whose clients included a Russian singer named Emin Agalarov. Agalarov is also vice president of a Moscow-based development company called Crocus Group, run by his father, Aras Agalarov.
On the morning of June 3, 2016, a Friday, Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. He had considered emailing the candidate, but because the offer was “ultra sensitive,” he figured he would pitch Trump Jr. first.
“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with . . . Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote. “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. What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?”
There is no crown prosecutor in Russia. The British-born Goldstone may have been referring to Yury Chaika, the country’s prosecutor general.
Trump Jr. replied shortly afterward.
“I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first,” Trump Jr. wrote. “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?”
We know that part from emails released by Trump Jr. when the story was first reported by the New York Times. Thanks to testimony released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, we know more about what was happening behind the scenes. After Goldstone heard back from Trump Jr., for example, he emailed Emin Agalarov to let him know that Trump Jr. wanted to speak the next week.
On Monday morning, June 6, Agalarov emailed Goldstone to find out whether a call had been set up. Goldstone replied that Trump Jr. was probably going to be traveling through Tuesday — the day of the primaries in a number of states, including California. But he emailed Trump Jr. anyway.
About 3 p.m., Trump Jr. replied to say that he was available and provided his cellphone number. Goldstone told Trump Jr. that Agalarov was performing but could call in 20 minutes or so. That was at about 3:45 p.m.
A little after 4 p.m., Agalarov called Trump Jr. His call lasted a minute or two. About 20 minutes later, Trump Jr. got a call from a blocked number that lasted four minutes. As soon as it was over, Trump Jr. called Agalarov back. That call lasted three minutes. A few minutes later, Trump Jr. emailed Goldstone: “Rob thanks for the help.”
Trump Jr. insisted to the Senate committee that he didn’t remember whom he spoke with in that call from a blocked number. We know from other testimony that Donald Trump’s residence at Trump Tower has a blocked number. Trump had wrapped up a campaign swing in California with an event in Redding on Friday.
Trump Jr. also claimed in his testimony not to remember having spoken with Agalarov in those calls. But in an interview with Vice News, Agalarov said he and Trump Jr. did speak. That apparently includes a two-minute call shortly after noon on Tuesday, June 7.
A few hours later, Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. again.
“Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday,” he wrote. “I believe you are aware of the meeting — and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?”
That email came in a bit after 4 p.m. At 4:28, Trump Jr. placed a call to Manafort. (He told investigators that he didn’t remember that call.) About 15 minutes later, he called Kushner. A bit after 5 p.m., he emailed Goldstone back to confirm the meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 9.
That night, after winning the California and New Jersey primaries and securing the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination, Trump gave a victory speech from outside New York City. He made an unusual promise:
“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,” he said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
The next day, June 8, Goldstone emails Trump Jr. to push the meeting back to 4 p.m. Trump Jr. forwards the email to Kushner and Manafort indicating the change in time. It’s apparently the first email either has received about the meeting, suggesting that both already knew about it. It seems that neither replied.
The subject line for the email reads: “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”
During the meeting
In addition to Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner, five people attended the meeting. They were:
- Goldstone, who checked into Trump Tower on Facebook beforehand.
- A Russian attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya.
- A Russian American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin.
- Ike Kaveladze, an employee of the Crocus Group in the United States.
- Anatoli Samochornov, a translator.
Once the meeting became public knowledge, Veselnitskaya publicly denied having any links to the Kremlin. Earlier this year, though, she admitted to having links to government officials — including to Chaika.
“Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general,” she said in an interview with NBC News.
Akhmetshin has his own nebulous ties to the Russian government. A former counterintelligence officer in the Soviet Union, Akhmetshin was known for trading in information stolen in computer hacks, according to a Times report — including emails.
Foreign Policy obtained a memo detailing the case that Veselnitskaya planned to make in that meeting. The short version, which isn’t that short, goes something like this:
Corporate entities owned by business executive Bill Browder in Russia were surreptitiously transferred to new owners, who then admitted to fraudulent activity, allowing them to get a $230 million tax refund since the fraud meant that the companies’ profits were overstated. Browder hired an accountant named Sergei Magnitsky to investigate what happened. Magnitsky discovered that corrupt officials facilitated the move and that the new owners of Browder’s businesses included people linked to organized crime. Magnitsky was arrested on fraud charges (by police linked to those he’d identified as corrupt) and died in prison. Browder subsequently pushed successfully for sanctions against those Magnitsky had named. To pressure Congress to revoke the law that implemented those sanctions, the Magnitsky Act, Russia declared that Americans could no longer adopt Russian children.
The case Veselnitskaya was prepared to make was slightly more complicated than that, looping in business partners of Browder’s who, she apparently argued, were major Democratic Party donors. When Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the issue of Browder during the news conference after his meeting with Trump in Helsinki last month, he made a more serious allegation: $400 million in illicit funds went to Clinton’s campaign. (The Russian government later clarified that Putin meant $400,000.) Browder never paid taxes on that money, Putin argued, perhaps referring to the tax refund taken by the new owners of Browder’s companies.
When Trump Jr. was describing the meeting to Hannity in July 2017, he waved off what he had learned.
“It just was sort of nonsensical, inane and garbled, and then quickly went on to, you know, a story about Russian adoption and how we could possibly help,” he said. It was so uninteresting that “Jared left after a few minutes” and “Paul got on the phone,” he said.
Manafort was on his phone — taking notes. Those notes, released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, include various references to subjects that overlap with Veselnitskaya’s memo. That includes the line “Active sponsors of RNC” — perhaps a mistyped or autocorrected reference to two associates of Browder’s mentioned in Veselnitskaya’s memo who are described as “the main sponsor of the Democrats.”
In an interview with NBC the same day as Trump Jr.’s conversation with Hannity, Veselnitskaya said Trump Jr. asked only one question: “whether I had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the [Democratic National Committee] were coming from inappropriate sources.” She said he was insistent on the point.
“I was probably pressing because the pretext of the meeting was, ‘Hey, I have information about your opponent,’ ” Trump Jr. told Hannity. “It was this, you know, ‘Hey, some DNC donors may have done something and Russia and they didn’t pay taxes’ — I was, like, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ ”
Trump Jr.’s second statement about his involvement in the meeting addressed this same point.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” that statement read. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered.”
It’s important to note the timeline here. This meeting was on June 9, 2016 — less than a week before The Washington Post first reported that hackers thought to be linked to the Russian government had hacked into the DNC and stolen communications, including emails. An indictment obtained by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicates that the intrusion began in mid-April, shortly before a Trump campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos is told by a Kremlin-linked professor that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.
The day before the Trump Tower meeting, the Russians set up a website called “DCLeaks,” which was used later that month to begin publishing documents stolen from the DNC. After The Post’s report about the DNC hack less than a week later, another entity allegedly controlled by Russian intelligence officers, “Guccifer 2.0,” began releasing documents, including information about DNC donors.
After the meeting ended, Trump Jr. claims Goldstone came up to him to apologize “for what he believed was wasting our time.”
After the meeting
There’s no indication that Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya had any further communications or that Trump Jr. and Agalarov spoke again. No one knew about the meeting’s existence until more than a year later, when the Times first reported about it.
As is standard practice in such situations, the Times asked the White House for comment on its report before it was published.
“It was a short introductory meeting,” a statement from Trump Jr. said. “I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
We later learned that the statement offered by Trump Jr. was dictated by his father while flying back to the United States from Europe after his first meeting with Putin, in July 2017. Trump’s attorney called The Post’s report on the dictation “inaccurate,” but in a letter sent to Mueller earlier this year, the president’s legal team admitted that Trump “dictated a short but accurate response” to the Times’s inquiry.
It wasn’t “accurate,” in the sense that it didn’t really convey what had happened. Over the course of the week when the report was first published, Trump Jr.’s story evolved several times, including in his conversation with Hannity. Trump defended his son regularly on Twitter after the story was published, praising his Hannity appearance and, this month, admitting that Trump Jr. had taken the meeting to “get information” on Clinton — something that Trump says was “totally legal.”
Experts on campaign law disagree with Trump’s assessment of the legality. Who knew about the meeting and what those individuals expected is important in determining whether prohibitions against aiding foreign intervention in elections were violated. And since the meeting was first reported, several people close to Trump have indicated that he was probably aware of what was going on.
In Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” released this year, Stephen K. Bannon is quoted as saying that “the chance that Don Jr. did not walk these [jamokes] up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero” — implying that even if Trump didn’t know about the meeting in advance, Bannon believes that Trump Jr. would have made sure Trump knew about it in the moment.
Bannon wasn’t embedded in Trump’s world at the time — but Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen was. Sources close to Cohen told CNN and NBC last month that Trump did know about the meeting in advance. We’ll note that the speech about Clinton that Trump promised on June 7 was not given.
Talking to Hannity in July 2017, Trump Jr. denied that he had spoken to his father after the meeting.
“It was such a nothing,” he said. “There was nothing to tell.”