WASHINGTON — From the beginning, entertainment promoter Rob Goldstone said, he thought it was a bad idea. He knew next to nothing about politics, and yet he was being asked by his client — a Russian pop star — to set up a meeting in Trump Tower to pass along dirt about the Hillary Clinton campaign.
But the singer, Emin Agalarov, was persistent. Goldstone was told he needed to secure the June 2016 meeting with a “well-connected” Russian lawyer who was prepared to pass along “damaging material” to the Trump family. The Trump Tower session was being sought by Agalarov’s father, Aras, a prominent businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
“All you need to do is get the meeting,” Emin Agalarov told Goldstone in a call. “You just need to get the meeting.”
He got the meeting.
Thousands of pages of documents and interview transcripts relating to the probe of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential campaign were released on Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing new details about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia — and Donald Trump Jr.’s eagerness to accept damaging material about Clinton from a foreign government source.
The meeting Goldstone arranged inside Trump Tower has become one of the most scrutinized aspects of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials. President Trump’s supporters contended the newly released documents were exculpatory; his detractors called them further evidence of campaign cooperation with Russia.
The documents provide a window into one of the most intriguing relationships at the center of the Russia investigations: the friendships and business contacts between the Agalarovs and the Trumps — two fabulously wealthy and powerful families in their respective countries — and the improbable role of a middleman played by Goldstone.
In them, a clearer portrait of Aras Agalarov emerges as someone who persistently attempts to connect the Russian attorney with the Trump campaign, both before and after the election, to talk about the impact on international adoptions of US sanctions against Russia. The lure was alleged dirt on Clinton.
A native of Manchester, England, Goldstone sought to become a journalist in Australia. Eventually he switched careers, moving to New York, becoming a publicist, and obtaining dual citizenship in the United States. He began representing Agalarov in 2012 and was a catalyst for helping the Agalarovs bring the Miss Universe contest, which Donald Trump owned, to Moscow in 2013.
On the weekend of the contest, there were plans for Putin to visit with Trump, Goldstone testified behind closed doors to the Senate committee. On the day they were supposed to meet, Putin’s spokesman called Aras Agalarov and delivered the message: “Due to the tardiness of the king of Holland, he was unable to schedule a meeting with Mr. Trump.”
But as he pursued separate talks that weekend about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, Trump clearly won favor among others, according to Goldstone.
“I had seen the interaction of business leaders who had met with him at a dinner, a cocktail party that had been arranged,” Goldstone testified. “And it was a love fest.”
When Aras Agalarov wanted Trump to come to Moscow for his birthday party in 2015, Goldstone e-mailed Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff with the request. When Graff said that Trump would be too busy, Goldstone attempted one more tactic. “I totally understand re: Moscow, unless maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin, which Emin would set up,” he wrote. Trump still did not travel to Moscow, and a meeting between Trump and Putin did not occur.
The contacts helped lay the groundwork for the e-mail that landed in Donald Trump Jr.’s inbox on June 3, 2016.
“Good morning,” Goldstone wrote. “Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.”
A Russian law enforcement official, Goldstone wrote, had “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
“If it is what you say,” Donald Trump Jr. responded, in a previously disclosed e-mail that is now infamous, “then I love it.”
Within a few days, a meeting was scheduled in Trump Tower with the high command of the Trump campaign.
But as he sat in the meeting, Goldstone later recalled in his Senate testimony, he was waiting for the “smoking gun” to be revealed. Instead, he and others recalled, the Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, talked about the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed sanctions on Russian officials. In response, Russia banned American adoptions of Russian children.
Jared Kushner, who was next to Goldstone, grew agitated and said, “I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Could you please focus a bit more and maybe just start again.”
Veselnitskaya began her presentation again, delivering it almost word for word the way she did the first time, according to Goldstone, who told the Senate committee that this seemed to infuriate Kushner more.
Donald Trump Jr. at one point “asked if they got anything on Hillary,” according to Ike Kaveladze, an executive at the Agalarov-owned real estate company. Kaveladze was at the meeting and also testified in private before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
After about 20 minutes, Trump Jr. cut Veselnitskaya off and ended the meeting by saying they should take up concerns about adoptions up with the Obama administration.
Goldstone said he apologized to Trump Jr. for not delivering the “smoking gun” that had been promised.
“This was hugely embarrassing,” he said he told him. “I have no idea what this meeting was actually about.”
Still, Goldstone said he brought up another Russia-related matter: He had a friend at VK — a Russian version of Facebook — who wanted to build a Trump page that would help attract Russian-Americans to vote for him. Goldstone wanted to know if Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, were interested (the information was passed along to Trump’s social media head, Dan Scavino, but apparently never pursued).
Almost immediately after the meeting, Goldstone called Emin Agalarov to vent.
“This was the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever asked me to do,” he said he told him.
Nearly six months later, he was again asked to contact the Trumps and attempt to secure another meeting with Veselnitskaya. That meeting never came, but Goldstone passed along a three-page document about the Magnitsky Act.
Eventually, Goldstone suggested in his testimony, the controversy strained the relationship he had with Emin Agalarov, and Goldstone stopped representing him at the end of 2016.
Last summer, Goldstone’s e-mails with Trump Jr. began to emerge, first in an explosive New York Times story. He came under more scrutiny, as Trump associates attempted to coordinate their responses.
“Stay cool,” Agalarov instructed Goldstone in a voicemail that was played before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “You have nothing to do with this.”
At one point, Agalarov urged him to consider the upside of the whole ordeal.
“This is making you one of the most famous people in the world,” he said.
“You know, Jeffrey Dahmer was famous,” Goldstone responded, referring to the serial killer. “I don’t think he got a lot of work out of it.”
Agalarov, too, seemed to second-guess whether the Trump Tower meeting was worth the cost.
“Yeah I’m fine,” he wrote last July to Kaveladze. “Just really upset that my dad never listens to me and an amazing relationship that I’ve been establishing for a few years with mr T has been thrown down the drain.”Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.