A direct line of communication between the Kremlin-connected Agalarov family and the Trump family was open during the transition after President Donald Trump’s presidential election, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The “first of a series” of text messages was sent between Emin Agalarov and Donald Trump Jr. two days after the 2016 election, a source familiar with the communications told BuzzFeed News.
The communications continued through at least mid-December 2016, according to information made public Friday.
It is not clear how many messages were sent, whether Trump Jr. sent any of them, or how many were sent by either party — although BuzzFeed News confirmed that multiple messages were sent.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee revealed one of the text messages, from Dec. 13, 2016, in their “minority views” report on Friday — one of several new pieces of information that suggest that the Trumps’ relationship with the Agalarovs was much closer than the president and his family have said.
The Agalarovs and Trumps have a relationship dating back to 2013, when Trump and the Agalarovs — father Aras (who has ties to Putin and whom Putin presented with the Order of Honor in 2013) and son Emin — hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
When news of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting broke in the summer of 2017, Donald Trump Jr. initially said that he “was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance” — later clarifying that it was “an acquaintance [he] knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.”
In the days that followed, Trump Jr.’s lawyer — Alan Futerfas, who currently represents the Trump Organization in the litigation over materials seized in the search of Michael Cohen’s properties — acknowledged that the meeting was set up by Rob Goldstone, Emin’s music manager and the person who connected the Agalarovs with the Miss Universe pageant back in 2013.
The emails released by Trump Jr. later that week made clear that Goldstone suggested the meeting at the request of Emin and following a conversation that Aras had earlier that day with what Goldstone described as “the Crown prosecutor of Russia.”
Despite that introduction and Trump Jr.’s infamous “if it’s what you say I love it” response, the Trumps have sought to downplay the significance of the relationship since.
But as even House Republicans concede in the House Intelligence Committee report released Friday, “the Agalarovs were the driving force to arrange” the Trump Tower meeting.
In their response to the Republican report, the Democrats on Friday provided more detail about the relationship between the Trumps and the Agalarovs.
The report confirms an email exchange Trump Jr. released in July 2017 in which Trump Jr. and Goldstone were trying to set up a phone call between Trump Jr. and Emin on June 6, 2016. BuzzFeed News sought more information this past summer about whether any such calls took place, but no one would say — until Friday, when the Democrats detailed two calls from a number that Trump Jr. told the committee was Emin’s. A call came from “a ‘blocked’ number … between the two calls.”
“The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 [sic] – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was ‘on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call,’” the report states. The blocked call came at 4:27 pm.
By 4:38 p.m., Trump Jr. sent Goldstone a follow-up email: “Rob thanks for the help. D”
Three days later, Trump Jr. — along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner — would host the Trump Tower meeting.
In addition to Goldstone, the attendees would include the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who Trump Jr. has said he knew would be attending but claims not to have known her name; Ike Kaveladze, a longtime employee of the Agalarov business; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist with ties to Russian intelligence; and Anatoli Samochornov, a Russian-American translator who served as Veselnitskaya’s translator but has worked for the US State Department at other times.
Although expecting damaging information about Hillary Clinton, both the Republicans and Democrats' reports say the discussion quickly turned to the Magnitsky Act — a set of sanctions against Russians and Russian businesses that are strongly opposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin — and Putin’s response to the law: banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.
After the short meeting, according to the Democrats’ report, the group — excluding Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner — went to the bar in Trump Tower. While there, Kaveladze took a call from Aras Agalarov.
The next day, Aras had “an expensive painting” delivered to Trump. The Democrats’ report cites an email — subject line, “Birthday gift for Mr. Trump” — from Goldstone to Rhona Graff, Trump’s longtime assistant.
A week later, the Democrats’ report states, Trump sent Aras a thank-you note.
“There are few things better than receiving a sensational gift from someone you admire – and that’s what I’ve received from you,” Trump wrote to Aras. “You made my birthday a truly special event by your thoughtfulness – not to mention your remarkable talent. 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. This is one birthday that I will always remember.”
Contacts between the Trumps and the Agalarovs continued after the election as well. While it has been known that the Agalarovs posted supportive messages on social media surrounding Trump’s election and inauguration, it had not before Friday been known that they were directly communicating during that time as well.
In the Democrats’ report, it notes one message sent by Emin to Trump Jr. on Dec. 13, 2016, posing a “quick question” for Trump Jr. According to the footnotes in the report, the text message was found among documents turned over to the committee by Trump Jr. labeled, “Text Messages from Emin Agalarov to Donald Trump Jr., November 10, 2016.”
A source familiar with the messages told BuzzFeed News that the Nov. 10, 2016, date represents “the date of the first of a series” of messages between Trump Jr. and Emin. Based on the description in the Democrats’ report, the text messages — at least those between Nov. 10 and Dec. 13, 2016 — fit on one page.
Emin’s texts were not the only Agalarov communications to Trump associates that took place during the transition.
Goldstone, who had sent the email about Aras Agalarov’s present for Trump to Graff in June, sent another email to Graff on Nov. 28, 2016.
“Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.” The attachment related to the Magnitsky Act.
In Trump Jr.’s second statement after the news of the Trump Tower meeting came out in July 2017, he referenced the Magnitsky Act by name, and said of the brief meeting, “That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.”
Friday’s report from the Democrats makes clear there was follow-up — and precisely the follow-up Trump Jr. had told them to make at the meeting. In that second statement, Trump Jr. wrote that he had interrupted Veselnitskaya when she was talking about the sanctions law and told her “that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office.”
Graff forwarded Golstone’s Nov. 28, 2016, email to Steve Bannon, then one of Trump’s closest advisers, that same day.
She added a short note to the top: “The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the US and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all. R.”
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.