Thousands of Pages of Documents on Trump Tower Meeting Are Released
Posted May 16, 2018 10:50 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Six months after the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and a self-described Kremlin informant, an intermediary contacted Donald Trump’s office asking for a follow-up, according to documents released Wednesday by a Senate committee.
The intermediary, Rob Goldstone, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he proposed a second meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and members of Trump’s team in November 2016. He said he contacted Trump’s longtime executive assistant at the behest of Aras Agalarov, a Russia-based billionaire who knows President Vladimir Putin of Russia personally.
The follow-up overture is one of the kernels of new information contained in thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits released by the committee, which has been conducting one of the investigations into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians. Agalarov also pushed for the initial get-together, which was organized on the premise that Veselnitskaya would deliver incriminating information on Hillary Clinton to support Trump’s campaign.
The second session never took place. But the invitation shows the determination of Russians with close Kremlin connections to convince the Trump team that the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on a host of Russian officials for human rights abuses, is a mistake. The 2012 law, which froze the bank accounts of some Russian officials and barred them from entering the United States, infuriated Putin.
In a late November 2016 email to Trump’s assistant, Goldstone attached a three-page document marked “confidential” that called for “the launch of a congressional investigation into the circumstances of passing the Magnitsky Act.” He wrote that Agalarov hoped the document would be delivered to “the appropriate team.” Veselnitskaya also attacked the law in the June meeting.
The bulk of records released are transcripts of the committee’s interviews with that meeting’s participants, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and members of the Russian contingent led by Veselnitskaya. Most of them have already publicly described their version of events.
Nonetheless, the records reveal some new details about the players involved and what happened after the meeting was reported by The New York Times last summer. Excerpts from the transcripts released by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is the committee’s ranking minority member, highlight how lawyers for the Trump Organization tried to manage the fallout by coordinating the statement of Goldstone and others.
Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that his father may have helped draft the statement that he put out to the press after the meeting became public. But on a number of other questions, he drew a blank, including whether his father uses a blocked phone number.
The excerpts selected by the Democrats also underscore how Agalarov previously tried to act as a bridge between the Kremlin and Trump. When Trump hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013, Agalarov sought to organize a meeting with Putin. But a top Kremlin aide called Trump to apologize, saying Putin could not see him because a tardy foreign leader had disrupted the Russian president’s schedule.
The committee tried to interview all the participants of the Trump Tower meeting. But Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman who is facing fraud and other criminal charges, declined to testify. Kushner gave the committee a statement.
Veselnitskaya, who is close to Agalarov, initially insisted that she acted independently of the Russian government when she visited Trump Tower. But more recently, she has described herself as an informant for a top Kremlin official, Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general.
Other witnesses included Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born Washington influence-peddler who has worked with Veselnitskaya for years; Irakly Kaveladze, who represented Agalarov; and Veselnitskaya’s translator, Anatoli Samochornov.
By all accounts, the meeting was a disappointment. The Trump campaign officials were disgruntled that Veselnitskaya’s disparaging information about Clinton amounted to no more than allegations of fraud in Russia by several obscure Democratic donors. At one point, Kaveladze testified, Kushner asked, “Why are here and why are we listening to that Magnitsky Act story?”
Goldstone, who said he expected Veselnitskaya to deliver a “smoking gun,” testified that on his way out the door, he told Donald Trump Jr: “This was hugely embarrassing.”
Veselnitskaya seemed unhappy that her message about the Magnitsky Act seemed to fall on deaf ears. “I know she was expecting something else from the meeting, something bigger,” her translator testified. The Senate committee’s inquiry has not produced any major revelations, and some critics have claimed that the Republicans are more interested in probing whether the federal law-enforcement authorities were biased against the Trump campaign than whether the campaign conspired with the Russian government to try to sway the presidential election.
Two other congressional committees also mounted investigations into Russia’s interference in the electoral process. The House intelligence committee recently ended its inquiry without any consensus. Democrats and Republicans were fiercely at odds over what the evidence showed and whether the inquiry was a waste of effort or cut short for political reasons.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation is still ongoing, but it appears unlikely to produce major new revelations.
Separately, the Justice Department’s special counsel investigation has indicted 19 people, including Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty, and secured five guilty pleas, including three from Trump associates.