New Details Emerge on Moscow Real Estate Deal That Led to the Trump-Kremlin Alliance
While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013, Donald Trump entered into a formal business deal with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, to construct a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. He later assigned his son, Donald Trump Jr., to oversee the project, according to Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who arranged the controversial 2016 meeting between the younger Trump and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
Trump has dismissed the idea he had any business deals in Russia, saying at one point last October, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
But Goldstone’s account, provided in an extensive interview in March in New York, offers new details of the proposed Trump project that appears to have been further along than most previous reports have suggested, and even included a trip by Ivanka Trump to Moscow to identify potential sites.
According to the publicist, the project — structured as a licensing deal in which Agalarov would build the tower with Trump’s name on it — was only abandoned after the Russian economy floundered. The economic downturn resulted in part from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
Goldstone’s version of events implies a possible explanation for Trump’s interest in lifting sanctions on Russia — a policy move his administration quietly pursued in its first few weeks until it ran into strong opposition from members of Congress and officials within the State Department.
Goldstone placed Donald Trump Jr. at the center of the Trump Tower deal, saying that his father assigned his eldest son the job of moving the project to fruition after the signing of a “letter of intent” between the Trump Organization and Agalarov’s company, the Crocus Group. It is not clear if the future president personally signed the “letter of intent,” but Michael Cohen, a longtime lawyer for Trump, told Yahoo News Tuesday that it would have been standard practice for Trump, as president of the Trump Organization, to do so.
Goldstone also said that Ivanka Trump flew to Moscow in 2014 and met with Emin Agalarov, the oligarch’s son, a pop singer and a vice president of the Crocus Group, to identify sites for the project. Confirming Goldstone’s account, Mother Jones late Tuesday published a photo of Ivanka Trump and Emin Agalarov in Moscow in Feb. 2014.
Trump “put Donald Jr. in charge and then Ivanka went to Moscow to look around for what the location would be,” Goldstone said. But the plans for a Trump Tower fell apart because “the economy tanked in Russia’’ after the imposition of Western sanctions, he said.
Goldstone, a British-born publicist who once did worked for Michael Jackson, represents Emin Agalarov in his music career and was present in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant when the Trump Tower project was discussed by Trump and Aras Agalarov. His role has gotten new attention this week after the New York Times disclosed that Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 urging him to meet with a Russian lawyer to receive damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. released his email exchange with Goldstone on Tuesday, confirming the key role of the publicist and, more significantly, the Agalarovs, in offering negative information about Clinton on behalf of the Kremlin. “Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote Trump Jr. on June 3, 2016.
A chief prosecutor in Russia “offered to provide the Trump campaign some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and would be very useful to your father. This is very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Alan Garten, the chief lawyer for the Trump Organization, did not respond to requests for comment. In a telephone interview, Cohen, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, did not dispute any specific details of Goldstone’s account but offered to check them. He did not later respond. But Cohen adamantly rejected the idea there was anything improper about meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, given that Trump Jr. was told she might have information helpful to Trump’s campaign. “The purpose of the election is to win,” said Cohen, adding, “Why is this any different?” than the unverified “dossier” on Trump’s ties to Russia prepared by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm hired by his political opponents.
Trump Jr., accompanied by then campaign chief Paul Manafort and senior adviser Jared Kushner, met with the Russian lawyer at Goldstone’s request to review the information she purported to have. “He met with her face-to-face to determine” the validity of the advertised documents and “no information was provided.”
Goldstone had played a key role in helping to broker the initial decision by the Miss Universe pageant — then owned by the Trump Organization and NBC — to hold its 2013 contest in Moscow.
According to Goldstone, he pitched the idea to Paula Schugart, then chief executive of Miss Universe, as a way to promote the music career of Emin Agalarov. Schugart was initially hesitant because of concerns about red tape in Moscow. “What if you had a partner who owns the biggest venue in Moscow?” Emin Agalarov responded, according to Goldstone’s account. “Between myself and my father, we can cut through the red tape. You have a new partner.”
The plans to bring Miss Universe to Moscow was announced by Trump in Las Vegas in June 2013 during the Miss USA contest. Trump at the time quickly expressed hope that it would lead to a meeting with Putin. “Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” Trump had tweeted at the time.
A meeting with Putin never came off during Trump’s Moscow trip; the Kremlin expressed regret that the Russian president wouldn’t be able to fit it into his schedule on the day in question because he had a meeting with the King of Holland. But the trip gave Trump an opportunity to discuss the plans for the Trump Tower in Moscow with Agalarov, a billionaire who has been called “the Trump of Russia” and “Putin’s builder” because of massive construction projects he has done on behalf of the Kremlin. Just 10 days before the Miss Universe pageant, Putin had given Agalarov a prestigious award at a ceremony at the Kremlin: Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.
In an interview with Forbes this March, Emin Agalarov confirmed the plans for Trump Tower in Moscow. “We thought that building a Trump Tower next to an Agalarov tower — having the two big names — could be a really cool project to execute,” Emin Agalarov told the magazine. Agalarov blamed the abandonment of the project on Trump’s decision to run for president, rather than the imposition of sanctions. “He ran for president, so we dropped the idea,” Agalarov said. “But if he hadn’t run, we would probably be in the construction phase today.”
But Emin Agalarov said he and the now president have continued to stay in touch, saying that Trump sent a handwritten note to the Agalaovs in November after they congratulated him on his victory. “Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends.”
Michael Isikoff is Chief Investigative Correspondent of Yahoo News.