Senate Committee Releases Documents Related To Trump Tower Russia Meeting
The Senate Judiciary Committee has released a treasure trove of documents related to the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, and they raise far more questions than they answer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee today released thousands of pages of documents regarding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between officials and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin and those documents raise as many questions as they answer:
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 J. Trump’s office asking for a follow-up, according to documents released on Wednesday by a Senate committee.
The intermediary, Rob Goldstone, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he proposed a second meeting between the Russian lawyer, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, and members of Mr. Trump’s team in November 2016. He said he contacted Mr. Trump’s longtime executive assistant at the behest of Aras Agalarov, a Russia-based billionaire who knows President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
The follow-up overture is one of the kernels of new information contained in more than 2,000 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.
The release of the records showed how far Republicans and Democrats on the committee have diverged since they first began the bipartisan inquiry last summer.
Republicans, who control the committee, declined to draw conclusions from their work, but described the documents as “the most complete public picture” yet that would allow Americans to determine what happened based on “unfiltered information.”
Democrats offered a starkly different assessment, repeatedly asserting that the investigation had been “limited” by Republicans more interested in accusations of F.B.I. misconduct than Russian interference. Too many questions remain unanswered to draw conclusions, they said.
“We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia,” they wrote in a summary of preliminary findings also made public.
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, was a mistake. The 2012 law, which froze the bank accounts of some Russian officials and barred them from entering the United States, infuriated Mr. Putin.
More from The Washington Post:
A music promoter who promised Donald Trump Jr. over email that a Russian lawyer would provide dirt about Hillary Clinton in June 2016 made the offer because he had been assured the Moscow attorney was “well connected” and had “damaging material,” the promoter testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rob Goldstone told the committee that his client, the Russian pop star and developer Emin Agalarov, had insisted he help set up the meeting between President Trump’s son and the lawyer during the campaign to pass along material on Clinton, overriding Goldstone’s own warnings that the meeting would be a bad idea.
“He said, ‘it doesn’t matter. You just have to get the meeting,’ ” Goldstone, a British citizen, testified.
The intensity with which Agalarov and his father, the billionaire Aras Agalarov, sought the Trump Tower meeting, which has become a key point of scrutiny for congressional inquiries and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, was revealed in more than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning.
The testimony shows that attendees at the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting largely agreed with Trump Jr.’s long-standing contention that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not transmit dirt about Clinton. She has denied she was acting on behalf of the Russian government.
But the new information helps explain why Goldstone had written the candidate’s son before the meeting that Veselnitskaya would bring “very high level and sensitive information” that was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” — and why Trump Jr. responded, “if it is what you say, then I love it.”
The testimony also sheds light on the anxiety that rippled through President Trump’s orbit a year later, as news of the meeting became public and his aides and lawyers tried to manage the story.
Shortly after his election, President Trump’s spokeswoman had said that no campaign officials had dealings with Russians during the campaign. The newly released testimony shows that the president’s lawyers and associates were anxious about any reports on Trump Jr.’s meeting, which contradicted that claim.
“[Trump’s lawyers are] concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia, which he has always denied meeting,” Goldstone wrote in an email to Emin Agalarov on June 26, 2017, a few weeks before the New York Times first reported on the meeting.
Ultimately, lawyers working for the Trump Organization crafted statements they asked other participants in the meeting to distribute, a move that could draw scrutiny from Mueller if it involved communicating with witnesses or otherwise hiding the true purpose of the meeting from investigators.
Trump himself contributed to an initial statement about the meeting released by his son, Trump Jr. told the committee. It misleadingly stated said the meeting had been “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children by Americans. The Kremlin halted adoptions in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, the policy issue that appeared to be at the heart of Veselnitskaya’s presentation.
Further analysis of the documents can be found at the links above, and you can access all of the documents that have been released, including exhibits, records obtained from third parties, and transcripts and statements submitted by Trump campaign officials including Donald Trump Jr. Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at the Committee’s website.
This story began, of course, with the initial New York Times report about the meeting in June 2016 that included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager at the time as well as Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney linked to the Russian government who has since admitted to being a Russian government informant. That meeting was scheduled after Trump Jr. and others in the campaign were told that Veselnitskaya had access to damaging information about Hillary Clinton. When the meeting was first reported, both Trump Jr. and the White House claimed that the meeting’s purpose was to discuss issues including the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans as well as sanctions imposed by Russia in the wake of its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. That claim was made most prominently in a statement released by the White House while the President was returning from a visit to Europe. It soon became apparent, though, that this claim was false.
Just days after the initial report, for example, Trump Jr. released a string of emails between himself and other campaign officials regarding the meeting. Those emails made it clear that the purported purpose of the meeting was based on the claim that the Kremlin-linked lawyer could deliver allegedly damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Later, Veselnitskaya said in interviews that Trump Jr. offered a quid pro quo in exchange for information about Clinton. In one of those emails, Trump Jr. responded “That’s great” when informed that the lawyer had access to damaging information about Clinton and the Democrats. In other words, the initial explanation for the meeting provided by the White House was a fabrication. This is significant because we learned soon after news of the meeting broke that the President himself participated in drafting that initial statement on the way home from a trip to Europe on Air Force One. On its surface, that statement seemed questionable since it didn’t make sense that three of Trump’s closest campaign advisers would take a meeting on such an esoteric topic. The fact that we now know it was false makes the President’s involvement in what may constitute an attempted cover-up extremely significant. Adding to all of this the fact that we now know that Veselnitskaya is a Russian agent of some kind makes this meeting all the more interesting and the White House response to the reports about it that came out last year all the more interesting.
Reviewing Trump Jr.’s testimony before Committee staffers, there are several questions that are raised that need to be answered. For example, the President’s oldest son stated that he could not recall if he ever communicated with his father regarding the Trump Tower meeting. However, phone records apparently show that Trump Jr. spoke at length to someone on a blocked number immediately following the meeting. It is well-known that Trump Sr. typically uses a phone with a blocked number for privacy reasons so this raises the rather obvious questions of who, other than his father, Trump Jr. would have been talking to so soon after the meeting. There are also apparently records of Trump Jr. calling a blocked number prior to the meeting, which adds further weight to the supposition that he was in frequent contact with his father regarding what was going on during the campaign and that it would have been unusual for him to not discuss a matter such as this meeting with his father either before or after it took place. This is especially notable given the fact that, in a speech just days before the meeting, Trump said in a stump speech that there would be some damaging information about Clinton released within days. One could argue that this was just a coincidence, but as the saying goes I believe in coincidences, I just don’t trust coincidences.
What all this means for the overall Russia investigation is hard to say, but it does tell us a few things. First of all, it tells us that the Trump campaign was so eager to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that it was willing to send three of its senior representatives, including the Campaign Manager, the President’s son, and the President’s son-in-law to meet with a lawyer with connections to the Russian government. Taking that into account along with evidence showing that other people involved in the campaign such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had contacts with Russian officials regarding allegedly damaging information about Trump’s General Election opponent. Second, it suggests that Russian officials and people linked to the Russian government were aware of the Trump’s campaign interest in such material and used that to get access to the inner workings of the campaign on a level that would be unusual for a foreign government. Finally, if these documents are any indication then it seems fairly clear that there’s far more for Robert Mueller’s investigation to take a look at than the people calling for it to end want to admit to. This is far from the end of the matter.