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Meet the bizarre cast of characters in Trump Jr.'s Russia scandal

by Alex Lubben
Jul 12 2017, 10:30am

When a British tabloid writer turned publicist for a Russian pop star emailed Donald Trump Jr. in the summer of 2016 with the promise to deliver him dirt on Hillary Clinton, the real estate scion’s response was enthusiastic: “I love it.”

More than a year later, his father is president of the United States and the meeting arranged by the publicist at Trump Tower has thrown Donald Trump’s administration once again into crisis over his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government to influence the U.S. election.

On Tuesday, Trump Jr. tweeted what he says is the full email exchange with publicist and business acquaintance Rob Goldstone that led to the June 9, 2016, meeting of Don Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer, also attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. In it, Goldstone writes of the promise of damaging information on Clinton: “This is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

But if the pop star, the Russian oligarch, the publicist, and the Kremlin-linked lawyer in this scandal have you confused, we’ve put together a who’s-who list to connect the dots.

THE SCION

Donald Trump Jr. is the current head of the Trump Organization, and as one of the loudest and most aggressive defenders of his father, he’s become a favorite of Trump’s most ardent supporters. During the campaign, he played a central role, assisting in the vice presidential selection process and even firing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He manages the Trump Organization’s connections to Russian entities — Russians have invested nearly $100 million in Trump-owned properties.

What’s his agenda: The emails show in writing that he knew Russia was trying to help his dad win the election — and he was very interested in listening to whatever information the Russians were offering.

THE RUSSIAN LAWYER

Natalia Veselnitskaya is a criminal defense lawyer who has lobbied against the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that allows the U.S. to place sanctions on Russian officials who violate human rights laws. She has ties to the Kremlin, according to the New York Times.

While Trump Jr. thought he’d be getting damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia, he says Veselnitskaya used the meeting as an opportunity to lobby on behalf of one of her clients, Denis Katsyv, who was accused of laundering money from a tax fraud exposed by an auditor named Sergei Magnitsky, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2008.

What’s her agenda: Magnitsky’s death led U.S. lawmakers to adopt the Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law in 2012 and has led to economic sanctions and travel restrictions on dozens of Russian citizens for alleged human rights abuses. It’s a law that many Russian high-ups would love to see repealed — and so would Veselnitskaya.

THE POP STAR

Emin Agalarov, Goldstone’s client, is the son of Russian real-estate tycoon Aras Agalarov.

Emin performed at Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, where he met the Trumps, and he told the Washington Post that he convinced his father that it would be “cool” to have a Trump Tower in Moscow — a project that was being jointly pursued by the Trumps and the Agalarovs for a time. He and his father seem to have a cozy relationship with the Kremlin: Their real-estate company has secured a number of very high-value contracts with the Russian government. President Trump, later in 2013, made a cameo in one of Emin’s music videos.

What’s his agenda: According to the emails posted Tuesday, Emin offered to connect Trump Jr. with Veselnitskaya. “Emin called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote in the email.

THE OLIGARCH

Aras Agalarov is a Russian real-estate developer who’s been called the “Donald Trump of Russia” because he likes to put his name on his properties.

Emin and his father paid nearly $20 million to license the Miss Universe name and bring the pageant to Moscow in 2013. Agalarov and Donald Trump had begun to make formal plans to develop a property together in Moscow after the pageant. The project was essentially a licensing deal, in which Agalarov would build a building that would be branded with Trump’s name.

Agalarov isn’t directly connected to the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower, as far as we know. But, according the Washington Post, he’s served as a liaison between Donald Trump and Putin, delivering a lacquered box from the Russian President to Trump when he could not attend a meeting.

What’s his agenda: The contracts the Agalarovs have gotten from the Russian government also raise a host of questions regarding the real estate scion’s relationship with Putin. And contracts generally do reveal closeness with Putin, who handed the right to build a bridge to Crimea to a close friend and political ally. Agalarov’s interests are aligned with the Kremlin’s.

THE PUBLICIST

Rob Goldstone is a former tabloid reporter who currently runs a PR firm in New York. He manages Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father Aras is a Russian billionaire with ties to both President Trump and Putin. Goldstone met Trump Jr. during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, where Emin performed.

In the emails Trump, Jr. posted Tuesday, Goldstone says that Emin sought to put Trump, Jr. in touch with Veselnitskaya, who wanted to provide the Trump campaign with incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. He was also, incidentally, checked in at Trump Tower on Facebook the day of the meeting. He’s got a prolific social media presence.

What’s his agenda: Helping a client who’s agenda is to help Trump become elected president.

THE OPERATIVE

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign advisor — already deeply entrenched in the ongoing Russia probe — was also in attendance at the June 9th meeting, according to Trump Jr.

Manafort’s ties to Russia, at this point, are welldocumented. He retroactively registered as a foreign agent in June for his firm’s work in the Ukraine between 2012 and 2014 —when he received $17.1 million in funds from a party whose leader eventually fled to Russia.

What’s his agenda: Manafort, like Kushner and Trump Jr., was willing to accept any dirt on Hillary Clinton that he could get — regardless of where it came from.

THE SON-IN-LAW

New York real-estate magnate and first daughter Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, is already a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Kushner’s business dealings brought him into contact with the Kremlin, too: He met with a Russian bank that’s under U.S. investigation to help them come up with a new corporate strategy in 2015.

Kushner also attended the June 2016 meeting at the request of Trump Jr.

What’s his agenda: Unknown. But as a campaign operative, he was presumably as interested as Trump Jr. in hearing damning information on Clinton.