NEW YORK — The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
If the future president’s eldest son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.
Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.
But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.
The Justice Department and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are examining whether any of Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Trump.
The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.
After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. posted images of them Tuesday on Twitter.
“To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails” about the June 9 meeting, he wrote. “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet.” He added that nothing came of it. But in an interview Tuesday with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he said that “in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”
At a White House briefing earlier Tuesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, referred questions about the meeting to Donald Trump Jr.’s counsel, but read a statement from the president in which he called his son “a high-quality person.”
The backstory to the June 9 meeting involves an eclectic cast of characters the Trump family knew from its business dealings in Moscow.
The initial email outreach came from Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who first met the future president when the Trump Organization was trying to do business in Russia.
In the June 3 email, Goldstone told Donald Trump Jr. that he was writing on behalf of a mutual friend, one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.”
The elder Agalarov boasts close ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia: His company has won several large state building contracts, and Putin awarded him the Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.
Agalarov joined with the elder Trump to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, and the Trump and Agalarov families grew relatively close.
Goldstone’s emails contradict statements he made in his interview with The Times on Monday, when he said that he did not know whether the elder Agalarov had any role in arranging the meeting, and that he had no knowledge of any official Russian government role in the offer to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Clinton.
Instead, he said that Veselnitskaya had contacted Emin directly, and that Emin had asked him to reach out to the Trumps as a favor to her.
Kushner recently disclosed the fact of the meeting, though not the content, in a revised form on which all those seeking top secret security clearances are required to list contacts with foreign government officials and their representatives. The Times reported in April that he had failed to list his foreign contacts, including with several Russians; his lawyer has called those omissions an error.
Manafort also disclosed that a meeting had occurred, and that Donald Trump Jr. had organized it, in response to one of the Russia-related congressional investigations.
Representatives for both men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Veselnitskaya arrived the next day and was ushered into Donald Trump Jr.’s office for a meeting with what amounted to the Trump campaign’s brain trust.
Besides having politically connected clients, one of whom was under investigation by federal prosecutors at the time of the meeting, Veselnitskaya is well known for her lobbying efforts against the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that punishes designated Russian human rights abusers by allowing the United States to seize their assets and keep them from entering the country.
The law so angered Putin that he retaliated by barring American families from adopting Russian children. Her activities and associations have brought her to the attention of the FBI, according to a former senior law enforcement official.
A spokesman for Putin said Monday that he did not know Veselnitskaya and that he had no knowledge of the June 2016 meeting.
Back in Washington, both the White House and a spokesman for Trump’s lawyer have taken pains to distance the president from the meeting, saying that he did he not attend it and that he learned about it only recently, a point Donald Trump Jr. reiterated Tuesday in his interview on Fox News. He also said he would testify under oath in any of the investigations into possible collusion between Russia and his father’s campaign.
Agalarov did not respond to a request for comment.
Emin, the pop star at the center of it all, will not comment on the matter, either, Goldstone, his publicist, said on Monday.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017