The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.”
Donald Trump Jr. also released the emails on Twitter. Photo: AP
If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material – or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign – he gave no indication.
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.
Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.
But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times and also published by Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter on Tuesday, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about – and just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.
The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. US intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favour of Mr Trump.
The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organisers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.
On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter that it was hardly unusual to take information on an opponent. And on Tuesday morning, he tweeted, “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!”
The backstory to the June 9 meeting involves an eclectic cast of characters the Trump family knew from its business dealings in Moscow.
The initial email outreach came from Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who first met the future president when the Trump Organisation was attempting to do business in Russia.
In the June 3 email, Goldstone told Donald Trump Jr. that he was writing on behalf of a mutual friend, one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.”
The elder Mr Agalarov boasts close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin: his company has won several large state building contracts, and Putin awarded him the “Order of Honour of the Russian Federation.”
Mr Agalarov joined with the elder Mr Trump to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, and the Trump and Agalarov families grew relatively close.
When Emin released a music video with a theme borrowed from the television show, The Apprentice, Mr Trump, then the show’s star, made a cameo appearance, delivering his trademark line: “You’re fired!” The elder Agalarov had also partnered with the Trumps to build a Trump hotel in Moscow, but it never came to fruition.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Mr Goldstone wrote in the email. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
He added, “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 such title as Crown Prosecutor in Russia – the Crown Prosecution Service is a British term – but the equivalent in Russia is the Prosecutor General of Russia.
New York Times