As the news of Donald Trump Jr.’s potentially shady 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer has trickled out over the last several days, one man has emerged as the most colorful and compelling character in the story. Rob Goldstone is a music publicist with a taste for funny hats and a past client list including the likes of Michael Jackson and James Taylor. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Goldstone had arranged a meeting between Trump Jr. and a lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, regarding damaging information that Veselnitskaya supposedly had about Hillary Clinton. Now, the New York Times is reporting that Goldstone told the younger Trump over email that the dirt Veselnitskaya was promising to deliver on Clinton had come from the Russian government, to which the younger Trump responded, “I love it.”
This latest development in the Trump-Russia story has unfolded quickly, in a dizzying series of scoops mostly obtained by the Times. On Monday evening, the Times first made the claim that Trump Jr. had been made aware of a potential Kremlin connection to Veselnitskaya, based on reporting from “three people with knowledge of the email’ between Goldstone and the younger Trump. By Tuesday morning, the paper had obtained the emails themselves. Just before the latest article went up, Trump Jr. tweeted screenshots of the entire email chain, suggesting he may have been aware of an impending story and attempting to get out in front of it.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
As a publicist, Goldstone represents Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is Aras Agalarov, a powerful and well-connected real estate tycoon. (For a more detailed primer on the web of connected players, see here.) According to Goldstone’s first email to Trump Jr., the music publicist had learned from Emin, who had in turn learned from Aras, about “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” Goldstone made it clear where the documents were coming from: “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.”
Trump Jr. replied without apparent reservations. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he wrote. “Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?” Subsequent emails show Goldstone and Trump Jr. hammering out details of the meeting between the president’s son and Veselnitskaya, whom Goldstone describes as a “Russian government attorney.”
The crux of the emails is that Trump Jr. was directly and unequivocally informed that whatever Veselnitskaya would deliver had come from the Russian government in their efforts to support Trump’s father. It’s one thing to dig up dirt on a political opponent, it’s quite another to get it from a foreign government seeking to influence an election. And it means that the president’s son is caught yet again attempting to obfuscate the truth.
The drip-drop of information from the Times has given Trump Jr. a multitude of opportunities to put his foot in his mouth: first, he claimed that his meeting with Veselnitskaya was primarily about American adoption of Russian children, a reference to a ban that Vladimir Putin enacted on the practice in 2012. (Putin was responding to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law blacklisting Russians suspected of human rights abuses, against which Veselnitskaya has campaigned in the past.) When the Times‘ reporting made it difficult for Trump Jr. to maintain that lie, he acknowledged that Veselnitskaya had promised him compromising information about Clinton, but downplayed the substance of the information, and the idea that it may have come from the Russian government. “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen,” he tweeted yesterday.
Goldstone, for his part, issued a vague and wandering statement on Emin Agalarov’s behalf. Via the Times:
“Emin said to me that I could tell journalists that you know he has decided to go with just a straight no comment. His reasoning for that is simply that he believes that by him commenting in any way from Russia it once again will open this debate of Trump Trump Russia. Now here’s another person from Russia. Now he’s another person from Russia. So he wants to just not comment on the story. That’s his reasoning. It’s – the story will play out however it plays out.”
(Tip for publicists: when your client instructs you to issue a “straight no comment,” just say “no comment.”)
We’ll keep following the story as it progresses. If you’re not hooked yet, just try to keep in mind as you are envisaging the intrigue’s key players that Goldstone looks like this:
Intermediary Rob Goldstone seems like a perfectly normal guy. pic.twitter.com/XQTRrxnwvI
— Nathaniel Meyersohn (@nmeyersohn) July 9, 2017