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Wall Street Journal / News - Politics

Senate Panel Releases Testimony on Trump Tower Meeting With Russians

Documents released Wednesday related to a 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russians shed new light on a billionaire Russian-Azerbaijani family’s efforts to push Donald Trump’s inner circle to ease human-rights sanctions against Moscow.


Jared Kushner, left, and Donald Trump Jr. were among the attendees of the Trump Tower meeting.

WASHINGTON—A billionaire Russian-Azerbaijani family’s efforts to push members of Donald Trump’s inner circle to ease human-rights sanctions against Russia during and after the 2016 election were more extensive than previously known, according to thousands of pages of testimony released by a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Rob Goldstone, a British publicist working for the Agalarov family, on multiple occasions contacted associates of the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization after Mr. Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, the documents show, including at one point offering to arrange a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The new documents suggest the Agalarovs, who helped sponsor the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow that Mr. Trump co-owned, sought to act as a conduit to the candidate and later president-elect for Russians seeking the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that froze the U.S. assets of alleged Russian human-rights abusers and banned them from being granted visas to enter the U.S. Mr. Trump hasn’t called for the Magnitsky Act to be overturned.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday released testimony, statements and notes from eight people who attended a previously reported June 2016 meeting Mr. Goldstone arranged between Mr. Trump’s representatives and a group of Russians who promised incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. At the meeting were Donald Trump Jr. , Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The Russian group included lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, translator Anatoli Samochornov, businessman Ike Kaveladze, and Mr. Goldstone. The committee documents suggest the meeting ended up focusing almost exclusively on the Magnitsky Act.

Ms. Veselnitskaya, Aras Agalarov and his son Emin have deep ties to the Kremlin. The elder Mr. Agalarov’s real-estate company has won several state contracts in Russia, and Mr. Putin in 2013 awarded him the “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation,” a high-profile civilian prize. Ms. Veselnitskaya discussed her anti-Magnitsky Act campaign with Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Mr. Putin has been a frequent critic of the law, calling it “imperialist behavior” by the U.S.

In July 2015, about a month after Mr. Trump launched his campaign, Mr. Goldstone emailed Mr. Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff and offered a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, which he said would be arranged by Emin Agalarov.

On Nov. 28, 2016, weeks after Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Goldstone sent to Ms. Graff a three-page document marked “confidential” that he said the elder Mr. Agalarov had asked him to pass along. The document stated that the Magnitsky Act was “one of the key issues” preventing an improvement in U.S.-Russia relations.

Ms. Graff forwarded the document to Steve Bannon, who had been appointed as incoming White House chief strategist, and wrote: “The [president-elect] knows Aras well.… Not sure how to proceed, if at all.”

Shortly after the presidential election, Mr. Kaveladze sought to have Mr. Goldstone arrange a second meeting between Trump associates and Ms. Veselnitskaya in New York City, Mr. Goldstone testified. According to a synopsis of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s proposed presentation sent by Mr. Kaveladze to Mr. Goldstone, she intended to discuss with the Trump associates roughly the same topics she had reviewed in the first meeting—the Magnitsky Act.

Mr. Goldstone, who said he believed Mr. Kaveladze reached out to him on behalf of Aras Agalarov, contacted Ms. Graff to propose the meeting with members of the Trump transition team, but Ms. Graff never responded, according to Mr. Goldstone’s testimony.

The newly released documents also shed more light on the run-up to the Trump Tower meeting and what was said during the encounter, which Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating as part of his probe into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump and Moscow have denied collusion.

Mr. Goldstone testified before the Senate committee that Emin Agalarov called him and told him a “well-connected” Russian lawyer, later identified as Ms. Veselnitskaya, had “potentially damaging” information on Mrs. Clinton.” Mr. Goldstone said he understood that to mean she had ties to the Russian government.

During the meeting at Trump Tower, the younger Mr. Trump asked the visitors if they had dirt on Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Kaveladze testified.

“Mr. Akhmetshin responded, ‘Why don’t you do your own research on her? We gave you the idea,’ and continued talking about the Magnitsky Act,” according to testimony from Mr. Kaveladze.

According to the testimony, the only information on Mrs. Clinton offered during the meeting related to the Ziff brothers, wealthy investors who Ms. Veselnitskaya said had dodged taxes in Russia and later donated to Democrats. Their firm, Ziff Brothers Investments, has previously declined to comment.

Federal Election Commission records show Daniel and Dirk Ziff donated more than $66,000 to the DNC in 2016. Robert Ziff, another one of the brothers, donated $32,400 to House Republicans’ campaign arm that year.

During the Trump Tower meeting, Mr. Kushner became agitated by what Mr. Goldstone described as Ms. Veselnitskaya’s meandering presentation, initially telling her, “I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mr. Goldstone testified. After Mr. Trump Jr. also said he was confused, Ms. Veselnitskaya said she was there to discuss the Magnitsky Act, specifically asking the younger Mr. Trump to “look out for this.”

The younger Mr. Trump, according to Mr. Goldstone, told her to take her concerns to the “Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying.” He then ended the meeting.

The new documents also revealed efforts by Mr. Trump’s team to manage the fallout from the initial reports of the Trump Tower meeting.

Mr. Goldstone testified that in late June 2017, Trump Organization attorneys Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas asked him to recount to them the details of the meeting. Mr. Goldstone said Mr. Futerfas drafted a statement for him that ratified as “100% accurate” the younger Mr. Trump’s account of the meeting. The younger Mr. Trump said the meeting had comprised a discussion of U.S. adoptions of Russian children and made no mention of the offer of dirt on Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Goldstone refused to release the drafted statement.

In an email to Emin Agalarov later, Mr. Goldstone wrote that the meeting was “causing massive problems.”

“They’re concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia, which he has always denied meeting,” Mr. Goldstone wrote. “It’s really potentially a serious situation, so you and your father should be aware.”

The next month, Mr. Goldstone wrote to Emin Agalarov on WhatsApp: “I hope this favor was worth it for your dad—it could blow up.”

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