Donald Trump Jr. meets with Aleksander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, at the N.R.A.’s annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky. The conservative operative who set up the meeting, Paul Erickson, had previously reached out to the Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn about arranging the conversation, suggesting that the convention could serve as a point of “first contact” between Trump and Russia and that “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump” and would invite the then-candidate to Russia. Torshin subsequently emailed the Trump campaign with a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.”
Donald Trump Jr. had numerous questionable contacts with Russian individuals during the course of the 2016 campaign, for most of which he has still not yet provided a reasonable explanation. Trump Jr.’s ties to Russia predate his father’s presidential campaign; he visited Moscow in 2006 with his sister and Felix Sater, where they connected with potential future business partners at a time when Trump had repeatedly expressed interest in developing in Russia. In 2008, he stated that “the Trump Organization wants to build luxury housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi,” and he visited Moscow six times in 18 months in search of new deals (although none panned out.) Despite the Trump Organization’s inability to develop properties in Russia, Trump Jr. told reporters at a real estate conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets […] we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
These early Russian ties may have made Trump Jr. more amenable to meeting Russian government-linked officials while his father was running for office. In May 2016, he dined at the same National Rifle Association event as Aleksander Torshin, the deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia. Although it is unclear if the two talked during this dinner, the NRA convention was the focus of another attempt to connect the Trump campaign with Russian officials: conservative operative Paul Erickson had suggested that the convention could serve as a point of “first contact” between Trump and Russia and that “Putin [was] deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump.” After the convention, Torshin emailed the Trump campaign with a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” although this second dinner never took place.
Trump Jr. also played an integral role in the notorious June 9, 2016 meeting. Rob Goldstone initially made contact with Trump Jr. about setting up the meeting; when offered incriminating evidence about Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. famously replied “if it’s what you say I love it.” He attended the meeting in Trump Tower, along with Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Rod Goldstone, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, and Georgian real estate and finance executive Irakly Kaveladze. When The New York Times initially reported on the June 9, 2016 meeting, Donald Trump reportedly dictated his son’s misleading initial response to the revelations. The meeting provoked questions about the extent of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian actors. In Michael Wolff’s new book detailing an inside look at the Trump White House, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that the actions of the three senior campaign officials who took part in the June 9, 2016 meeting, including Trump Jr., were “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Bannon has since denied that these comments were in reference to Trump Jr.
During the final months of the campaign, Trump Jr. received messages from WikiLeaks asking for his help; this contact, which was revealed in November 2017, show Wikileaks “actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation.” Trump Jr. received messages beginning in September 2016 and continuing until at least July 2017. The messages showed WikiLeaks requesting that Trump Jr. release his father’s tax returns and requesting that Julian Assange be named as the Australian ambassador to the U.S., although it appears Trump Jr. ignored these requests.
Less than one month before the election, Donald Trump Jr. was paid more than $50,000 to speak at a private dinner in Paris hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, a pro-Kremlin think tank that nominated Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Center of Political and Foreign Affairs was founded by Randa Kassis and Fabien Baussart. French media indicates that Baussart has ties to Russian oligarchs. Kassis is a Syrian-born activist who has a history of high-profile meetings with Kremlin-linked individuals, including Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov. Kassis publicly supports Russia’s position in Syria, and reportedly has close ties with Sergey Lavrov. She is the leader of a Syrian political party called the Movement for Pluralistic Society. Kassis allegedly spoke with Trump Jr. about the need for U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria, and subsequently relayed news of this meeting to Russian diplomats in Moscow.
These contacts with Russian and Russian-linked actors have not gone unnoticed, and Trump Jr. has been called to testify before multiple congressional committees. During his September 2017 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Panel, he denied allegations of collusion during the 2016 election cycle. He testified before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees behind closed doors in December 2017, where he was reportedly questioned about his numerous Russian contacts, including the June 9, 2016 meeting and his communications with WikiLeaks. Trump Jr. has criticized the Russia investigations, defending his father and saying that the investigations represent a “rigged system.”