One day after Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and top brass sat down in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, Trump received a birthday present. It was from Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian oligarch whose son helped arrange the meeting.
The gift was an expensive painting. And Trump declared himself dazzled.
“I’m rarely at a loss for words, but right now I can only say how much I appreciate your friendship and to thank you for this fantastic gift,” Trump gushed to Agalarov in a thank-you note sent a week later. “This is one birthday that I will always remember.”
The gift and Trump’s response are among fresh details from a report released Friday by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Specifically, the report suggests preparations for the June 9, 2016, meeting were more involved than Trump’s team has admitted, and that communications between the Trump and Agalarov clans were deeper than previously thought.
The report also claims congressional investigators uncovered detailed evidence that participants coordinated after the meeting to control what the media said about it.
“The committee is in receipt of extensive documentary evidence — including text messages, voice messages, and email correspondence — outlining extensive efforts by the Trump campaign meeting participants, at least one Trump Organization lawyer, and the Agalarovs, to control the public narrative surrounding the meeting,” the report said.
Those exact details will be revealed in a future report.
The Democratic document was drafted as a response to a report by Republicans on the same House intelligence committee, also released Friday. The GOP report lightly criticized the Trump team for taking the meeting at Trump Tower, for which Donald Trump Jr. has received most of the scrutiny, but called it nothing more than a bad judgement call.
“The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging information on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgement,” the Republicans' document said.
Don Jr. and the campaign have largely dismissed the meeting as a one-off that came about on the false promises made by a bumbling music manager and a lawyer who oversold her connections to the Kremlin.
When the news first broke, Don Jr. issued a press release saying the meeting was mostly about adoptions, not Clinton’s campaign. That misleading statement was dictated by Trump himself, according to The Washington Post.
But the new details revealed Friday by House Democrats and The New York Times paint a far more intricate picture. The Times report detailed findings that the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was an informant, and better connected to Russia’s chief legal office than she has previously disclosed.
And the Democratic report presented evidence that Don Jr. “likely” spoke on the phone to Agalarov’s son, Emin, days before the meeting took place. Another unnamed person who attended the meeting testified to Congress that he’d been informed the meeting’s purpose would be “to provide negative information on Clinton.”
By now, pretty much everyone agrees that eight people attended the meeting, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign chairman; Don Jr.; and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
The new findings don't deviate much from what’s been previously reported about the meeting, including the assertion that participants discussed the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law placing sanctions on senior Russian officials.
But the Democratic report presents a much more complete portrait of communications between Trump's team and the Russians around a meeting that the White House has claimed Trump first heard about only a year later — around the time The New York Times revealed it had taken place.
After the meeting wrapped up, the Russians headed for the bar in Trump Tower. From there, a representative of the oligarch Agalarov, who had attended the gathering, stepped out for a few minutes to take a call from his boss about how it went, according to the report.
The next day, Agalarov sent Trump the painting, four days before Trump’s June 14 birthday.
The report goes on to say that the Agalarovs continued to stay in touch with the Trump team for months afterward, including about the Magnitsky Act.
After Trump won the election, Emin Agalarov's manager Rob Goldstone emailed a senior aide to Trump explaining that “Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.”
Later that day, the longtime Trump aide, Rhona Graff, forwarded the email to one-time Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon. The email included a document from Agalarov about the Magnitsky Act as an attachment, explaining: “The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the U.S. and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all. R.,” according to the report.
Cover image: Donald Trump Jr. attends the 140th annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House April 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Sipa via AP Images)