November 19, 2017


The Magazine Interview: Rob Goldstone on setting up Trump Jr and Russia (ADAM BIRKAN, 11/19/17, THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE)

To recap, it was Goldstone who in early June 2016 fired off a hastily written and now forensically dissected email to his acquaintance Don Trump Jr, just days after his father had wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination. Goldstone outlined a striking proposal from a client of his, a Russian pop singer and oligarch's son who had once discussed Moscow property deals with Trump Jr after his family staged the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013. On offer were said to be "official documents" from the "crown prosecutor of Russia" that would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father".

Their email exchange -- including the younger Trump's now famous response, "If it's what you say it is, I love it" -- has been a key focus for the Department of Justice's investigation into Russian interference in the election. So is the meeting that Goldstone attended a few days later in Trump Tower's glass-walled boardroom, with its sweeping views across Central Park. There, Trump's oldest son was joined by Jared Kushner, the candidate's son-in-law and close adviser, and Paul Manafort, then campaign chairman and now indicted for allegedly laundering millions of dollars from unrelated lobbying work for Ukraine's pro-Kremlin leader.

The three men had carved time out of packed schedules to meet a delegation promising "dirt" on Clinton -- a clear signal they were not surprised that the highest echelons of Russian government apparently wanted to intervene to help Trump. Across the table sat four Russians, including a high-powered female lawyer with Kremlin ties and a lobbyist who, it later emerged, was a former Soviet intelligence officer. [...]

Goldstone has had plenty of time to reflect on the events of June 2016. It started with a call from Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star and businessman whose singing career he managed and whose father, Aras, is a Moscow property magnate. Goldstone had worked with Emin on the deal to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 -- and with it Trump, who co-owned the pageant, for a visit that is also now at the centre of US investigations. The Agalarovs staged the show at their Crocus property complex and, with other Russian entrepreneurs, laid out $20m to fund the event.

"So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps," Goldstone says.

Although he was accustomed to unusual requests from his celebrity clients, he says he was still taken aback when Emin called him about the now infamous Trump meeting.

"I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn't get involved in this. It's politics, it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It's not our forte. I deal with music. You're a singer and a businessman."

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. "His mantra was always 'Rob can do it'. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much."

So Goldstone kicked into publicist mode, took the information supplied to him by Emin, "puffed up" the language, arranged the meeting -- and thought little of it for more than a year until American journalists started to call his phone as he finished lunch at a Greek taverna in mid-July.

"I should have listened to that little voice in my head," Goldstone says. "But I never thought in a million years that an email I wrote in about three minutes to Don Jr would be examined by the world many times over. I just needed to get him to respond. I could have said that the Russian attorney believes she found a black hole, or believes Santa is real, it didn't really matter. So when he replied, 'If it's what you say it is, I love it,' I just thought my teaser had worked. [...]

Goldstone's role in making this particular introduction will come under scrutiny when he is interviewed by investigators in Washington. Whatever the outcome, his view on the motives and mindset of Trump Jr, Kushner and Manafort is also expected to be under the spotlight.

It is an offence under American law for someone involved in a political campaign to receive material benefit -- normally a financial donation -- from a foreign national. There has been debate among legal scholars about whether the law also covers the intent to benefit from services such as "opposition research".

Trump Jr has since acknowledged that he went into the meeting expecting to hear such material about his father's rival. That is why he brought along Manafort and Kushner, after copying them into his email trail with Goldstone under the subject line "Russia -- Clinton -- private and confidential".

However, the White House's changing account of the purpose and contents of the meeting fuelled accusations that a cover-up was under way. An initial statement noted only that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoption policy. The legislation, which was passed by Congress in 2012, froze the American bank accounts and imposed US travel bans for senior Russian officials held responsible for the death in a Moscow prison in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who was jailed and beaten after investigating high-level tax fraud.

The legislation is widely loathed by Putin and his inner circle, and the Kremlin ordered a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans as retaliation. Russian politicians, lawyers and lobbyists have long pushed for the sanctions to be ended. According to Goldstone, this appeared to be the true motive for Veselnitskaya's meeting with the Trump team. But US media has reported that she first made a series of allegations concerning contributions to Clinton and the Democrats from a well-known investment fund, linked to Bill Browder, a long-standing foe of Putin and driving force behind the Magnitsky acts in the US, Britain and Canada.

"Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, 'Could you just get to the point? I'm not sure I'm following what you're saying,' " Goldstone says.

It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. "I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else."

Goldstone described Kushner as "furious" and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Posted by at November 19, 2017 2:15 PM