This story has been developing for a few days, but the atomic sized bombshell dropped today. The New York Times has published an email chain shared by Donald Trump Jr on Twitter between himself and a Mr. Rob Goldstone. The emails are damaging to say the least. Before discussing the emails themselves, it is prudent to discuss the players involved.
First there is Donald Trump Jr (along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in a secondary role) representing then candidate Donald Trump Sr.’s presidential campaign. Second there is Rob Goldstone, publicist for Russian pop music star Emin Agalarov. Emin’s father, Aras Agalarov, is a wealthy Russian businessman who has close ties both with the Russian government and Donald Trump Sr (working together to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013). Aras Agalarov, I would also like to add, is mentioned in the “Russian Dossier” leaked in January, specifically on page 27. Finally there is the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who does not seem to have many official connections to the Russian government, but coincidentally shares and advocates many of the Russian Government’s official positions on a number of issues. More can be read here on the main players.
Now with the cast set, we move on to the emails themselves. Read the emails in full before reading further.
The opening email is perhaps the most interesting, and also the most damaging. Goldstone explicitly states that the information he seeks to pass along is “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin [i.e. his clients].” Goldstone here openly admits that there is an ongoing effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump Sr win the election. Even if we assume that Goldstone was a mistaken fool who didn’t know what he was talking about, the message still didn’t raise any red flags in the Trump campaign. Fool or not the FBI should have been alerted. Instead, Trump Jr accepted the offer to meet, which at the very least demonstrates a willingness, and indeed an actual attempt, by the Trump campaign to meet with Russian officials. But we don’t have reason to believe that Goldstone was mistaken. The people he represents (the Agalarov’s) have proven ties with the Russian government. Combined with the Agalarov’s prior associations with the Trump family, it is not hard to see why they would be at the center of any Russian government effort to meddle in the election.
Another interesting portion of the emails is the attempt to arrange a phone call between Emin Agalarov and Donald Trump Jr. As reported in the Washington Post, there is reason to believe from the emails that the phone call did take place. The Washington Post points out that the meeting seems to have been arranged outside of the email chain, presumably in said phone call. But before I get ahead of myself here, let me remind you that there is no proof that said phone call took place.
It is clear however, that this email chain, as explosive as it is, does not contain all of the information. In his email on June 7th, at 5:19 pm, Goldstone states that he “will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today” but the names are not found later in the email chain. This suggests communications beyond what was released today. The final email, in which Trump Jr lets Kushner and Manafort know that the meeting was moved, is obviously not the first time that Kushner and Manafort were made aware of the meeting. The campaign manager, Manafort would understandably require more information about a meeting he was expected to attend than what is present in this email chain. Indeed Trump Jr first mentions Kushner and Manafort in an email the day prior, again suggesting further communications then what we have here.
To summarize, Donald Trump Jr willingly accepted a meeting with a Russian attorney to receive information sourced ultimately from the Russian government. The information was being handed over, explicitly stated, as part of a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign. At this point, and given the high ranking campaign officials involved, it is hard to believe Trump Jr that the meeting produced nothing of value. But it also does not really matter. The intent behind the meeting was for the Trump campaign to receive assistance from the Russian government. They did not know beforehand, and indeed we still do not know now, that the meeting would be unproductive. If all this sounds like collusion, it is because it is.