Trump Jr. and Russians Agree, Trump Tower Meeting Was a Waste of Time; So Why Did It Happen?

By Susan Jones | May 17, 2018 | 9:00am EDT
Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who worked for the Russian government, met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. (Photo: Screen grab)

( - Both sides came out of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower feeling misled and disappointed, transcripts show. So why did it happen and who benefited?

Certainly, that now-famous meeting has been the main exhibit among those politicians and media outlets fanning the Russian "collusion" theory.

Donald Trump Jr. told congressional investigators he agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer, someone unknown to him, when an acquaintance (a British-born producer for a Russian musician) told him "someone had official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her dealings with Russia and that the information would be very useful to the campaign."

"I was somewhat skeptical," Trump Jr. said, because Rob Goldstone, the music producer who was asked by his client to arrange the meeting, did not provide any information to "validate" what he said the meeting would be about.

"As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified," Trump said. "The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out to be not about what was represented. The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions."

Based on transcripts released Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Trump and two of the Russians attending that June 9 Trump Tower meeting later agreed that they were talking past each other.

"All else being equal," Trump Jr. said, "I wouldn't have wanted to waste 20 minutes hearing about something that I wasn't supposed to be meeting about." Asked if he took the meeting to try to get dirt on Clinton, Trump said, "I took the meeting to listen."

"To the extent that they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of any presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out," he testified.

Russian lawyer: 'I had never asked anyone for a meeting with the Trump team'

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who indirectly instigated the meeting, and Rinat Akhmetshin, her Russian-born lobbyist friend whom she invited to join her at the meeting, indicated that each side was looking for something promised, but not offered.

"I had never asked anyone for a meeting with the Trump team," Veselnitskaya said in her written testimony. "Nor did I ask to organize namely a meeting with Donald Trump, Jr."

Veselnitskaya said Rob Goldstone, a friend of her client's son, had arranged what she understood to be a "private meeting with Donald Trump Jr." to discuss "how terribly misled the U.S. Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder," the author of the Magnitsky Act, which Veselnitskaya wanted overturned.

"I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it," Veselnitskaya wrote. She said she'd been complaining about the case back in Russia to a Russian client of hers, Arns Agalarov, and asked him if he could help her out.

"I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son (Emin Agalarov, Rob Goldstone's client) could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people."

"I do not remember the moment when I first heard that I could personally make my request during a meeting,” Veselnitskaya said. “Nor do I exactly remember who told me about it. But upon arrival in New York in the evening of June 8, 2016, in my e-mail box I found a letter from a certain Goldstone, who notified me of the time and place of the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr."

During the meeting, Veselniskaya said she was explaining how "the adoption of the Magnitsky Act...might have been sponsored by Ziff brothers, as well-known and active donors of the Democratic Party."  Donald Trump Jr. asked her if she had any information on illegally obtained funds being donated to the Clinton Foundation.

"I said that I did not and that it was not my issue," Veselnitskaya wrote. "The meeting, essentially, ended there. Today, I understand why it took place to begin with and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted. The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. Goldstone."

(Goldstone, in his email to Trump Jr. arranging the meeting, seemed to promise dirt on Hillary Clinton, something Veselnitskaya said she knew nothing about.)

In response to another question on how the meeting concluded, Veselnitskaya said, "Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless follows: can do nothing about it; 'if' or 'when' we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story. I personally regarded this as an elegant, but final farewell."

Akhmetshin: Came to N.Y. on June 9 and ended up at Trump Tower

Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya invited two people to the meeting -- her interpreter and a Russian-born "colleague" named Rinat Akhmetshin, who was a registered lobbyist for a human rights foundation that is trying to restart U.S. adoptions of Russian babies.

Akhmetshin, in his testimony, said he met Natalia Veselnitskaya for first time in late 2015 through someone at the Washington law firm Baker Hostetler. He said he was aware that Veselnitskaya once worked in the Russian prosecutor's office.

According to his account, Akhmetshin, on June 9, traveled by train from Washington to New York on "personal business" and was invited to lunch on that same day by Veselnitskaya -- before the 4 p.m. meeting at Trump Tower.

"She did not state exact purpose of the meeting at that point," Akhmetshin said. "She said, 'I got a meeting with Donald Trump's son,' and at some point she said, 'Do you want to come along?'" Akhmetshin said he was "surprised" that Veselnitskaya was going to meet with Trump Jr. "And I'm curious, like, what's going to happen?"

Asked if he knew beforehand that Veselnitskaya was going to be in New York on June 9, Akhmetshin said: "In retrospect, while kind of reviewing the documents, I discovered or I saw that there was some exchange between me and her. She just obtained her U.S visa, and she was eager to travel to United States. I do not remember specifically whether I was specifically aware of her presence in New York at that day, but now in retrospect, I think I had some general kind of understanding she might be in New York."

Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya, at lunch, asked him for advice on what she should say at the meeting, then suggested he come along. He said Veselnitskaya had information about an American hedge fund run by the "Ziff brothers" that supposedly had violated both Russian and U.S. laws, and that the hedge fund was "one of the large contributors to the DNC."

Later, at the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya congratulated Trump Jr. on his father's recent primary win. "And then, Mr. Trump, Jr., said, "So I believe you have some information for us," Akhmetshin said. "And then Ms. Veselnitskaya presented -- made a presentation about Ziff Brothers."

According to Akhmetshin, Trump Jr. asked Veselnitskaya how the hedge fund money traced to Hillary. "And she said, 'Hell, I don't know.'"

Akhmetshin said he could tell Trump Jr. "just instantly lost interest about these things." And that's when Veselnitskaya jumped into her "adoption presentation," Akhmetshin said.

"What was the reaction to the presentation about adoptions?" the attorney asked.

"Oh, they were not interested at all," Akhmetshin said.

Both Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin have personal and/or business dealings with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Christopher Steele to produce an opposition research "dossier" on Donald Trump.

And both of them were at a dinner in Washington with Simpson the day after the Trump Tower meeting.  In his testimony, Akhmetshin said he caught a train back to Washington on  June 10, but he's "not sure" if he traveled with Veselnitskaya. "I found my ticket coming in and coming out, but I don't -- I purchased it by myself, but I don't remember other people,"  he said.)

As reported, Veselnitskaya had dinner with Simpson both the day before and the day after the meeting.

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