Dispatch, Explainers June 8, 2018

Collusion at Trump Tower: In Their Own Words

Two years ago, in the middle of the 2016 presidential race, the senior-most members of the Trump campaign—Donald Trump Jr., Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner—met in Trump Tower with Russian operatives with close ties to the Kremlin.

The attendees and President Donald Trump’s defenders have argued that the meeting was not collusion. But in the year since the meeting’s existence was revealed, a trove of documents released to the public, including emails and other communications between the meeting’s participants, has demonstrated otherwise.

These documents make clear that the meeting was collusion and that those involved knew it:

  1. Before the meeting, both sides explicitly agreed on the meeting’s purpose: The Russian government would provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of its ongoing support of the Trump campaign.
  2. At every opportunity, those involved in the meeting lied to cover up its existence and hide what was discussed.
  3. After the meeting was revealed, the people involved panicked, recognizing that it was collusion.

In sum, the people involved knew there was collusion, which is why they tried to cover it up.

This is clear just by reading their own words.

1. Before the meeting, both sides explicitly agreed on the purpose of the meeting: The Russian government would provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of its ongoing support of the Trump campaign.

June 3, 2016: Rob Goldstone, who works for a Russian oligarch close to Putin, emailed Donald Trump Jr. to arrange a meeting “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

June 3, 2016: Trump Jr. responded to the inquiry, accepting the Kremlin’s help and providing strategic guidance on the timing of the potential release of the information, based on when it would be most advantageous for the campaign.

 2. At every opportunity, those involved lied to cover up its existence and conceal what was discussed.

When the existence of the meeting was initially reported last year, Trump Jr. changed his story each day as new information was revealed:

July 8, 2017: The New York Times broke the news that Trump Jr. “arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin.”

Trump Jr. issued a statement saying: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared [Kushner] and Paul [Manafort] to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.

“I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

July 9, 2017: The New York Times broke the news that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Clinton before agreeing to the meeting.

Trump Jr. issued a new statement: “After pleasantries were exchanged the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”

July 10, 2017: The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. was told that the compromising information about Clinton was part of a Russian effort to help his campaign.

Trump Jr’s lawyer responded: “In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia. Goldstone is a music publicist who worked on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with the Trump family. Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”

Trump Jr. tweeted: “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.”

3. After the meeting came to light, the people involved panicked that it was revealed, recognizing that it was collusion.

On the Trump side, senior officials, including President Trump, attempted to downplay the meeting and the president’s involvement in crafting the response.

  • On July 8, 2017, as news of the meeting broke, Trump personally dictated the initial statement from Trump Jr. saying the meeting’s attendees had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”
  • Publicly, however, the Trump White House repeatedly denied that the President was involved in the statement’s drafting. On July 31, 2017, reporting from The Washington Post revealed that the President did, in fact, help dictate the misleading statement. In response, on August 1, 2017, the White House claimed that the President only “weighed in” on Trump Jr.’s statement.
  • On January 29, 2018, in a confidential letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s legal team finally acknowledged that Trump “dictated” Trump Jr.’s first misleading statement, directly contradicting previous denials from Trump’s legal team and press office.

While the Trump team tried to get their story straight, the other participants in the meeting tried to coordinate their response with representatives from the Trump team, as seen in private conversations obtained and released by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

July 9-10: Goldstone admits to Emin Agalarov, son of the Russian oligarch, that he is lying to the press about the origins/purpose of the meeting.

July 9: Goldstone continues to coordinate a response.  

July 23: Incoming White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci tells Goldstone to get their stories “consistent” and that they’ll be able to “ride it out.”

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Goldstone denied that any collusion had taken place, but struggled to actually define it.

But on June 11, just after Trump Jr. released the emails leading up to the meeting, Ike Kaveladze, another meeting attendee, received an email from his son asking why Trump Jr. had just admitted to collusion:

The participants of the June 9 meeting clearly knew it was collusion, and they made a coordinated and concerted effort to cover it up. In doing so, they ended up contradicting their own stories. Despite Trump Jr.’s previous statements that there was no follow-up from the meeting, Goldstone sent an email later in the summer to Trump Jr. and Trump associate Dan Scavino, currently the White House Director for Social Media, “following up” on a topic he discussed with Trump Jr. and Manafort at the meeting: having the Russians encourage Russian-Americans to vote for Trump by creating a page on the Russian social networking site VK.

The June 9 meeting gives us a window into the Trump campaign’s corrupt approach to the election. The statements, emails, and texts from the participants make one thing very clear: The senior-most members of Trump’s team willingly and knowingly attended a meeting whose purpose was collusion with a hostile foreign power. From the initial emails setting up the meeting to the eventual efforts to cover it up, their own words give them away.