If there is one thing that every member of the Trump team can agree on, it’s that the meeting that took place in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 “didn’t lead to anything.” Jared Kushner called the get-together between Trump’s top campaign officials and Russian operatives “a waste of time.” Paul Manafort was so uninterested that he “got on the phone.” Donald Trump Jr. said it was “such a nothing” and that it was “sort of nonsensical, inane and garbled.” And everyone, everyone has repeatedly said that “nothing came of it.”
Sure, Donald Trump’s position on Donald Jr.’s first public note about the meeting has slipped from he “wasn’t involved” in the statement to he “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement to “The President dictated a short but accurate response.” And the claims in that statement also changed, from saying the meeting was “primarily about the adoption of Russian children” to noting “there was also discussion of material” about Hillary Clinton to admitting the meeting was about finding ways to hurt Hillary.
But the Trump team has been insistent on two things: Donald Trump did not know about the meeting, and the meeting did not result in further action.
There are good reasons to think that both of those things are lies. But the reason that Trump keeps on lying about this meeting may be that it was far more critical than even the initial posts made it appear. Because now, in the light of sentencing documents related to Paul Manafort, documents related to Michael Cohen, the Senate report on Russian social media efforts, and information about the Trump Tower Moscow project, it seems clear that the Trump Tower meeting was pivotal.
Because all of these things were going on in the first half of 2016:
- Donald Trump began to win Republican primaries and looked increasingly likely to be the party’s nominee.
- The Russian social media effort that had been put in place as early as 2014 as a general support Republicans/hurt Democrats effort was being transformed into an instrument specifically to support Trump.
- Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. continued to negotiate to build a skyscraper in Moscow, working with Russian oligarchs Aras and Emin Agalarov through Michael Cohen and Felix Sater.
- Russia ramped up cyber warfare operations, successfully breaching the DNC and private emails of Democratic staffers.
By the time of the Trump Tower meeting, Trump and his campaign team already knew that Russia had stolen documents to offer. They already knew that Russia was going to make those documents available. They were already in communication with Russia on multiple fronts. And after that meeting … things changed.
When Agalarov representative Rob Goldstone contacted Donald Trump Jr., he pulled no punches about what was being offered.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
Trump Jr. didn’t act surprised by this statement. He didn’t ask any questions. That’s because, as the Cohen information made clear, Trump Jr. was already getting regular information from the Agalarovs related to the Moscow Project. The project hadn’t ended at the start of 2015, as Trump indicated on the campaign trail. In fact, Trump signed a letter of intent to go forward with the project in October, and the project carried right on into 2016, and was still underway when Goldstone contacted Trump Jr. Trump Jr. called Emin Agalarov on the same day he received Goldstone’s email. And Agalarov later called back—though Trump Jr. testified that he couldn’t recall either conversation.
Before that email arrived, George Papadopoulos had already come to the campaign to excitedly inform them about the information Russia had available. But Papadopoulos was probably late to the game. If, as now seems likely, the whole Russian social media effort was coordinated with Paul Manafort, who is reported to have visited with Julian Assange in March 2016, Trump knew about the Russian theft before Papadopoulos did.
When the Moscow Project really seems to have gone on hold was … about the same time as the Trump Tower meeting. It seems likely the real topic of discussion at that meeting was how to coordinate efforts going forward, in terms of both the best use of the stolen documents about to be provided through Assange and the social media efforts.
As it happens, there’s one bit of information that glues the two things together. And, again, it’s related to Agalarov’s assistant, Rob Goldstone. It has to do with another aspect of the Russian social media effort: the part that everyone was allowed to see, but which is rarely discussed.
In 2017, the Washington Post reported on Vkontakte, which has been called Russia’s equivalent of Facebook. During the campaign, executives at Vkontakte reached out to the Trump campaign to discuss having an official presence on the Russian site, in addition to the numerous unofficial pro-Trump pages that already existed. Those contacts went to Trump Jr. and to the campaign’s media director, Dan Scavino, who “expressed interest,” though whether or not an official campaign page was ever in the works is now “unclear.” An attorney for Trump Jr. admitted that he “pitched the idea” to Scavino, so it seems that he was supportive.
But the reason Trump Jr. seemed to be pushing Vkontakte wasn’t just that he was contacted by officials of the site. He was told to do it by Goldstone. Sometime in “early 2016,” Goldstone sent an email to Trump Jr. “to discuss the idea of setting up a page for Trump on VK.” That email is not among the communications that Trump shared with Congress. Following the email, Scavino also contacted Goldstone directly and was “enthusiastic” about the idea.
Those VK-related messages from Goldstone didn’t just happen early in 2016. They also happened later in the year—specifically, two weeks after the Trump Tower meeting.
“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29.
Following the Trump Tower meeting, Agalarov was still coordinating with the Trump campaign on social media. And where did Goldstone talk with Trump and Manafort? “At a meeting recently.”
Two weeks after the Trump Tower meeting, the meeting that supposedly “went nowhere,” was “primarily about adopting Russian children,” and was so unhelpful that Paul Manafort claimed he got on his phone and Jared Kushner claimed he left the room early, Goldstone was talking to Scavino to say that he had a recent meeting with “Don and Paul” about social media. However, others who were at the Trump Tower meeting denied that social media, including the Vkontakte page, was discussed.
A report prepared for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Russian social media efforts in the 2016 election gives some sense of the scope and impact of that effort.
Over 30 million users, between 2015 and 2017, shared the IRA’s Facebook and Instagram posts with their friends and family, liking, reacting to, and commenting on them along the way.
The report also notes that news that Russia was engaging in this effort did not stop the effort. Instead, ”engagement rates increased and covered a widening range of public policy issues.” The scope of the Russian effort expanded sharply following July, doubling over the next two months.
The Trump Tower meeting wasn’t the first time Trump’s team coordinated with Russia. It certainly wasn’t the last. But the reason that there continues to be such insistence that it was “a nothing” appears to be that it was definitely something. And that something seems to coincide with a critical inflection point in the Russian social media effort, the distribution of stolen documents, and a temporary hold placed on the Moscow Project.
— Tennessee Liberal (@TNsmartgal) December 18, 2018