Wednesday 13 December 2017

Memories of Moscow night coming back to haunt US President - as Donald Jr faces possibility of criminal charges

  • 'Trump faces the exit, being pursued by a Russian bear'
  • Memories of Moscow night are coming back to haunt US President Donald Trump
  • Donald Jr publishes a series of emails on Clinton information
  • Mr Trump Jr now facing the possibility of criminal charges
  • Trumps 'felt bluster and bravado would get them through'
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduces his son Donald Trump Jr. as he addresses the crowd during a campaign rally at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduces his son Donald Trump Jr. as he addresses the crowd during a campaign rally at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana
Robert Mueller, former FBI director.
Donald Trump, Jr., son of Donald Trump, speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 19, 2016
Donald Trump Jr. Photo: AP

Harriet Alexander

It was a winter's night in Moscow, yet as the sushi was served Donald Trump felt the warm glow of friendship, and the comforting thought of business deals to be done.

Nobu had been shut that night in November 2013 by its franchise owner Aras Agalarov - a billionaire kindred spirit to Mr Trump, who, like his Manhattan friend, possessed an enviable property empire and wanted more.

The two men had brought the Miss Universe pageant, owned by Mr Trump, to Moscow, at an events hall owned by Mr Agalarov.

Furthermore, the two were in talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, right next to the Agalarov tower.

Donald Trump Jr. Photo: AP
Donald Trump Jr. Photo: AP

Mr Agalarov invited his friends to the dinner - among them Herman Gref, the chief executive officer of state-controlled Sberbank PJSC, Russia's biggest bank, and a man who was Mr Putin's economy minister until 2007.

"The Russian market is attracted to me," Mr Trump told a real estate magazine shortly after returning to the United States. "Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room."

Now memories of that Moscow night are coming back to haunt him.

Yesterday Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, published a series of emails which stated that Mr Agalarov had received damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and wanted to pass it on to his Manhattan friend.

The information "is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump", wrote Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist acting as an intermediary.

Mr Goldstone, representing Mr Agalarov's pop singer son Emin, said that Emin wanted to get in touch with Mr Trump Jr, or Sr, to pass on the "incriminating" information on the Democrat rival.

America was left reeling by the evidence in the tweets posted by Mr Trump. He offered them up, "to be totally transparent", alongside a statement that implied no wrongdoing, to pre-empt 'The New York Times', which since last weekend has been on the story, a shark smelling blood.

Mr Trump Jr is now facing the possibility of criminal charges in what is the first evidence of the Trump campaign being open to using material provided by Russia, to damage Mrs Clinton.

Robert Mueller, former FBI director.
Robert Mueller, former FBI director.

Collusion is not a crime, but obtaining campaign "support" - including information - from a foreigner is.

As ever with the Trumps, they felt bluster and bravado would get them through. Mr Trump never signed the deal with Mr Agalarov; his presidential candidacy put paid to that, his son Emin said.

The president, on the campaign trail, insisted time and time again that he had no business dealings in Russia - which is true - and little contact with anyone there, which is not so simple.

The Agalarovs remained in contact with Mr Trump after that 2013 Moscow trip, with Emin performing at one of Mr Trump's golf courses, persuading him to make a cameo in one of his music videos, and visiting Trump Tower in Manhattan.

When, according to Mr Goldstone's emails, the well-connected Aras Agalarov was told in June 2016 "by the crown prosecutor" -believed to be Yuri Chaika, the Russian prosecutor general -about possible incriminating material on Mrs Clinton, Mr Agalarov was only too keen to pass the information on to his Republican friend. A meeting was brokered by Mr Goldstone with Mr Trump Jr and a woman Mr Goldstone described as "the Russian government attorney".

On June 9, 2016, Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, arrived at Trump Tower. She claims she does not work for the Kremlin, and never had any information on Mrs Clinton.

In her eyes, the meeting was to discuss the Magnitsky Act - a US sanction list hated by Mr Putin and his inner circle.

Donald Trump, Jr., son of Donald Trump, speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 19, 2016
Donald Trump, Jr., son of Donald Trump, speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 19, 2016

Mr Trump Jr, however, went to the meeting looking for "dirt".

He said none was provided, when confronted by 'The New York Times' about the meeting, and almost appeared to believe that the lack of compromising intelligence made the meeting acceptable.

It will now fall to Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who heads the Russia inquiry, to decide whether it was acceptable or not.

The publication of the emails surprised the most seasoned of Trump watchers. James Stavridis, the former Nato supreme allied commander and current dean of The Fletcher School of law and diplomacy, said he was reminded of the Shakespearean line: "Exit pursued by a bear."

"And the Russian bear is just chasing Trump now," he said.

An American journalist, Jared Yates Sexton, summed up the incredulity with which Mr Trump Jr's emails were received.

"I worked on this story for a year... and... he just...he tweeted it out," he said, adding: "Like it was nothing. Like, it was just another Tuesday." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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