Documents show Trump lawyers' scramble behind June 2016 meeting fallout

More than a month before the public learned of the now-infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the Trump Organization's to...

Posted: May 17, 2018 9:29 AM
Updated: May 17, 2018 9:29 AM

More than a month before the public learned of the now-infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the Trump Organization's top lawyer was already furiously working to piece together a complete account of the meeting and its participants.

"I think the first outreach may have been at the end of May as a phone message that was left, and I didn't return it until the very end of May or the first of June," Rob Goldstone, the publicist who helped set up the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, according to newly released transcripts.

The call was from Alan Garten, the Trump Organization's chief legal officer, who in the following days and weeks worked with Trump Jr.'s attorney Alan Futerfas to learn everything they could about the meeting in anticipation of the legal scrutiny and public relations deluge that was sure to follow, interviewing at least four individuals involved in the meeting. Their efforts came after congressional investigators began requesting documents from people close to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Despite that extensive effort, Trump Jr.'s initial statement about the meeting was wildly misleading -- offering no indication that he took the meeting because he believed he would obtain incriminating information about his father's then-political opponent Hillary Clinton.

That deluge did follow in early July 2017, when The New York Times first reported on the Trump Tower meeting. And behind the scenes, the two attorneys expanded their efforts to contain the public relations fiasco by coordinating the public response to the report with the White House and several of the meeting's participants, the newly released Senate Judiciary Committee transcripts show.

Together, Garten and Futerfas spoke with Trump Jr., Goldstone, Emin Agalarov, the son of a Russian oligarch, and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of Agalarov's father, Aras Agalarov, a prominent oligarch and property developer in Russia, in the month before the bombshell report.

After initially reaching out by phone, Garten emailed Goldstone on June 2 and June 5 to ask about the names of participants in the meeting.

"The name of the woman who was the attorney who spoke at the meeting from Moscow was Natalya Veselnitskaia (sic) Hope this helps," Goldstone told Garten in a June 2 email. "Hope this helps."

Garten circled back days later with more questions: "Was Irakli (Ike Kaveladze) at the meeting? Also, do you happen to have the names of the other individuals who were there?"

Goldstone spoke with both Garten and Futerfas several more times before the Times report broke, explaining to the attorneys that Veselnitskaya had misrepresented the purpose of the meeting.

"It appeared to me to have been a bait and switch of somebody who appeared to be lobbying for what I now understood to be the Magnitsky Act, and probably thought she wouldn't be able to get a meeting under that guise and therefore had dangled the idea of having some damaging information on Hillary, which she may or may not have had," Goldstone recalled in his interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Goldstone, for his part, also braced for the impact the meeting's revelation would have on his business and the Agalarov family, warning Emin Agalarov the meeting was causing "massive problems."

"I have today been interviewed by attorneys for the second time about it. They're concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia, which he has always denied meeting. I did say at the time this was an awful idea and a terrible meeting," he told Agalarov on June 27, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee documents.

Goldstone later told Agalarov that he had tried to keep "you and your father out of this story," using the word "acquaintance" in speaking with a reporter.

Kaveladze also testified that Futerfas reached out to him "sometime in June" because "he wanted to interview me in regards to the June 9 meeting and understand what was my recollection of that meeting."

Futerfas and Garten's efforts turned to the public relations response after the Times story broke, with Futerfas emailing Goldstone on July 9 asking him to call him "before responding or answering any press inquiries" about the Trump Tower meeting.

After Goldstone's name leaked, Futerfas told Goldstone his "preference if (sic) for you to have no comment."

"There is already a lot out there and anything you say will lead to more queries. You are, of course, free to speak to the press but from my standpoint, it would not be productive," Futerfas emailed the publicist.

But on July 10, Trump Jr.'s attorney reversed course, emailing him a suggested statement backing up Trump Jr.'s initial statement: "As the person who arranged the meeting, I can definitely state that the statements I have read by Donald Trump Jr. are 100 percent accurate. The meeting was a complete waste of time, and Don was never told Ms. Veselnitskaya's name prior to the meeting. Ms. Veselnitskaya mostly talked about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoption laws, and the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes at most. There was never any follow-up, and nothing ever came of the meeting. Signed, Robert Goldstone."

Goldstone told the Judiciary Committee he never issued the statement because it was "ludicrous."

"It just sounded like an across-the-board endorsement of Mr. Trump Jr., as opposed to stating facts," Goldstone told lawmakers.

He forwarded the draft statement to Emin Agaralov, who replied, "Just figure out with Ike what the strategy should be. I don't mind you commenting anything. And there's no problem from my side, as you understand."

Goldstone did not release Futerfas' statement, instead putting together a statement of his own and sending it to Futerfas before releasing it publicly.

Futerfas told CNN Wednesday the Senate committee did not include Goldstone's response to the draft indicating it "looks good to me."

In a statement Futerfas said he interviewed Goldstone several times and "Mr. Goldstone's recollection fully corroborated what we had heard from other participants to the meeting. The Senate Judiciary Democrats' press release briefly references a proposed statement that was sent to Mr. Goldstone. At the time, Mr. Goldstone was speaking to the press with some abandon and we were drafting a responsible narrative that was consistent with the interviews we had conducted, including Mr. Goldstone's. In the proposal made to Mr. Goldstone, we advised that "any statement should be accurate as to your very best recollection.' Mr. Goldstone responded, 'Thanks looks good to me.'"

Futerfas said the committee didn't release Goldstone's reply, which he sent on July 10, the same day Goldstone he received the draft statement.

The statement that explained he had reached out to Trump Jr. to set up the meeting and that the Russian attorney "presented a few very general remarks about campaign funding and then quickly turned the topic to that of the Magnitsky Act and the banned US adoption of Russian children."

"The meeting was halted by Don Jr. and we left," Goldstone wrote. "Nothing came of that meeting and there was no follow up between the parties."

Garten and Futerfas also coordinated closely with the White House before releasing the initial statement from Trump Jr. in which the President's eldest son said only that the meeting was to discuss "a program about the adoption of Russian children" while omitting the meeting's original purpose.

Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that several of his father's attorneys were involved in crafting the statement and that he believed the President himself provided input, through his then-communications aide Hope Hicks.

"The initial statement was discussing exactly what the meeting was about. It ended up being about that. It did not talk about what got them into the door and I didn't expand on it because I didn't think it was relevant to discuss what the meeting was not actually about even if that's what the email was," Trump Jr. told the committee in explaining the incomplete nature of the initial statement. "As more questions were asked and more information was requested we released more information and went into greater detail."

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