The Infamous Trump Tower Meeting "Bombshell" That Wasn't: Part 1

(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Obtaining and using “dirt” on a political opponent in order to gain an advantage is as old as politics itself.  The election of 2016 was no different and some have said that, although a brutal campaign, it was somewhat tame compared with presidential campaigns in our past.  In 2016, the candidates were literal open books whose lives had been probed in numerous articles and books, research papers, policy papers, and innuendo.  

The American electorate was presented with a choice of two controversial candidates for different reasons.  It would logically stand to reason that both Trump and Clinton would seek out any advantage they could to tip the scales.  Some have argued that Trump tipped the scales and broke through an unwritten barrier by soliciting the help of a foreign government.  Others have argued that Clinton went beyond the pale by soliciting the aid of Ukraine, a country that two years previous suffered a violent revolution leaving over 100 people dead.

One of the more interesting aspects of the saga was a meeting held on June 9, 2016 in Trump Tower in which the candidate, Donald Trump, was not present.  It involved his son, Donald, Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort.  On the other side were several Russians and a British publicist.  No one had heard of the meeting until Kushner filed revised paperwork for a security clearance after the election in July 2017 when he disclosed the meeting.  The resulting firestorm in the press after those revelations set off alarm bells in the press and on the Left as proof that the Trump campaign was conspiring with the Russians.   

The meeting was extensively covered by the press, Congressional investigations, the FBI, and eventually by Robert Mueller.  In the end, one is left with the impression that members of the Trump campaign were politically naive.   Surprisingly, despite the campaign being under the investigative microscope, no one knew about the meeting until Kushner’s noting it on a security clearance form in April 2017.  If the meeting was nefarious, then why disclose it?

Previous to this meeting, George Papadopolous had received information that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, and this was before the DNC email hack became public knowledge.  Thus it was on June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, the British publicist for Emin Aragalov, emailed Trump, Jr.  Goldstone knew the Trumps since 2013 when the Miss Universe Pageant was held in Russia.  The elder Aragalov was a wealthy real estate developer in Russia, the equivalent of Donald Trump, which is likely why they forged a friendship.  

In that email, Goldstone wrote: “Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.”  He then went further: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”  There is no “Crown prosecutor” in Russia.

Trump, Jr. responded: “Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call [sic] first thing next week when I am back?”  In a follow up email on June 7, 2016 it was agreed that a “Russian government attorney” would deliver the material personally to Trump, Jr.  

It just so happened that this attorney would be in New York on June 9th for a court appearance where she was representing a Russian firm in a money laundering case.  The email chain was forwarded by Trump, Jr. to Manafort and Kushner and the meeting took place on June 9th at Trump Tower.  Initially, there was confusion over who attended on the Russian side, but when the smoke cleared, there were five people.

First, Rob Goldstone was there, the British publicist since he started the ball rolling and was the go-between with the campaign and Aragalov.  Ike Kaveladze is a Georgian-American senior vice president of the Crocus Group, Aras Aragalov’s firm, and based in the United States.  His presence was justified as being an emissary for Aras Aragalov.  Anatoli Samochornov was also present to serve as a translator.  In the past he worked for a company called Meridian International, a Washington DC-based organization founded in 1960.  He also worked as an interpreter for the State Department, but was never employed by them.

The second most interesting person at the meeting was Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist and former Russian counterintelligence officer.  He came to the US in 1993 as the Soviet Union was dissolving and became a US citizen in 2009.  He has a checkered past as a lobbyist.  According to some sources, he has close ties to Putin, which he denies.

The most important person was Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.  She was best known in the United States as someone who lobbied hard against the Magnitsky Act.  In Russia, she represented Pyotr Katsyv, an official in the Russian Railway company, and his son, Denis, against money laundering charges in New York.  Denis Katsyv was accused by the US attorney in New York, Preet Bharara, of using New York real estate deals to launder money allegedly stolen from Bill Browder’s Hermitage Capital enterprise in Russia.  That case was later settled under a consent decree between the government and the company he worked for, Prevezon Holdings, where no one admitted any guilt but Prevezon agreed to pay $6 million.  

During the legal proceedings against Denis Katsyv and Prevezon and unknown to anyone at any time, Fusion GPS which funded the Steele dossier, was also hired by Prevezon and Veselnitskaya had worked with the firm on the case.  The “dirt” on Clinton being brought to Trump Tower by her allegedly involved information unearthed in the Prevezon case.

The meeting lasted all of 20 minutes after it soon became apparent that there was no dirt on Clinton to be had.  Instead, Veselnitskaya acted in her usual role as a lobbyist against the Magnitsky Act and talked, instead, of Russian adoptions.  It is also confirmed that Manafort, realizing there was no dirt, left the meeting early.  She later stated that she intended to provide information that a firm linked to Browder had committed tax evasion in Russia and was making political donations to Democrats in the US.  Akhmetshin also said that she had uncovered evidence of tax evasion in the Prevezon case and that it was committed by a donor to the Democrats.