The infamous Trump Tower meeting between members of the Trump Campaign and some shady Russian lobbyists in June of 2016 may have been a “bad idea,” but it ultimately turned out to be a huge nothingburger and waste of time according to the individuals involved.
More than 1,800 pages of transcripts from Senate Judiciary Committee 2017 interviews of numerous key figures in on the meeting were released Wednesday, undermining the spin on the controversial confab’s role in the collusion narrative. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had been pushing for the release of the records since January.
As has been widely reported, Trump Jr. agreed to a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton during the heat of the 2016 campaign. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Don Jr. were in attendance. Also there were Rob Goldstone, the publicist of Azeri-Russian singer Emin Agalarov; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist; Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer; and a translator.
News of the meeting was first revealed in the New York Times in July of 2017, causing allegations that team Trump colluded with the Russians to steal the election to reach a fever pitch. But the transcripts indicate that the media outrage regarding the meeting was much ado about nothing. As President Trump has said repeatedly — there was no collusion.
According to the transcripts, Trump Jr. said he was “skeptical” of the meeting from the get-go, telling the committee that Goldstone — the publicist who set up the meeting at the behest of Agalarov — actually apologized for wasting their time when it was over.
Trump Jr. told the committee that if he had actually been given information on Clinton, he would have then consulted with his lawyer to “make an informed decision as to whether to give it any further consideration.” He added, “I also note at this time there was no focus on Russian activities that there is today.”
Veselnitskaya told the committee in a written response that no information specific to Clinton was provided during the meeting.
Trump Jr. corroborated that, saying that the Russian lawyer did not provide any “dirt” on Clinton beyond “very generally something about individuals connected to Russia supporting or funding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.”
When he asked Veselnitskaya how that money ended up with the Clinton or the DNC, she responded, “Hell, I don’t know.”
At this point, according to all accounts, team Trump realized they had fallen for a bait-and-switch and lost interest:
The Trumpkins were genuinely let-down. Veselnitskaya left without making a dent. Manafort could barely keep his eyes open; Kushner walked out early. Don Jr. was very confused.
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) May 16, 2018
When asked how the meeting ended, Trump Jr. testified that “we went our separate ways and Rob Goldstone came up to me and apologized.”
“Essentially he apologized for what he believed was wasting our time,” Trump Jr. said.
When asked whether he believed Goldstone had “duped” him into a meeting under “false pretenses” to “grab” his attention, Don Jr. answered, “I imagine there was an element of showmanship involved, yes.”
Goldstone told the Senate Judiciary Committee that at the behest of Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov, he proposed a second meeting between Veselnitskaya and members of Trump’s team in November 2016 to discuss the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions, but that meeting was rejected.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was not able to interview Jared Kushner or Paul Manafort, but the panel did release a short page of notes Manafort took on his phone during the meeting.
Manafort apparently meant to write “active sponsors of DNC” rather than RNC, as Veselnitskaya’s story was that Bill Browder, the force behind the Magnitsky Act, and others had helped to funnel tax fraud money to the DNC and/or the Clinton campaign.
Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist, testified that the Steele dossier was “total rubbish.”
Fwiw, Akhmetshin said he thinks Steele dossier is "total rubbish." pic.twitter.com/CQYE7m48y1
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) May 16, 2018
The White House has confirmed that when the Trump Tower bombshell story broke last year, President Trump was involved in drafting an initial statement saying the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program. Trump Jr. later released a string of emails admitting that he agreed to the meeting after being promised dirt on Clinton.
Trump Jr. told the committee that he didn’t know if his father was involved with drafting the statement because he had never spoken with him about it. He also stressed that his father didn’t know about the meeting, saying “I wouldn’t have wasted his time with it.”
He said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with attending the Trump Tower meeting.
Goldstone said the meeting was disappointing and that he reported back to Emin Agalarov that “this was the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever asked me to do. I’ve just sat in a meeting about adoption.”
The release of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s transcripts does not close the book on the Trump Tower meeting, however, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is also looking at it.