KTEP - El Paso, Texas

The White House's Shifting Narrative On Russia

Jul 15, 2017
Originally published on July 15, 2017 10:50 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Details of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting in 2016 with a Kremlin-connected lawyer continue to emerge. The White House version of events seem to shift daily - sometimes hourly. President Trump told Reuters he learned of the meeting just days ago. It turns out Trump's legal team knew about the meeting for over three weeks. Michael Isikoff covers this and Trump's business dealings with Russia for Yahoo News - joins us in our studios. Michael, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good to be with you.

SIMON: Do lawyers typically keep information like this from their clients?

ISIKOFF: Well, hard to say what's typical in this case. But, no, this is clearly pertinent important information. It was the most politically explosive development that there's been in the entire Russian investigation because you had in these emails - that were originally uncovered by Jared Kushner's lawyers - clear evidence that top people in the Trump campaign and starting with Donald Trump Jr. were informed that the Russian government wanted to assist Donald Trump's campaign and had damaging information about Hillary Clinton that they were willing to provide. And there it was in black and white. And the fact is Trump's legal team is top lawyer Marc Kasowitz and Alan Garten, the chief legal officer of the Trump organization, were informed about this in the third week of June.

SIMON: And we keep learning that more and more people - if I hear one more name of someone who was in that meeting, I'm going to wonder why they didn't move it to Madison Square Garden. Tell us about the other Russian in the room we know about - at least one more - former Soviet counterintelligence officer.

ISIKOFF: Yeah, Rinat Akhmetshin, who's been sort of a well-known character around town for some time, has been a lobbyist - likes to cultivate journalists and congressional staffers - and was actually hired to help represent the Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was lobbying Congress against the Magnitsky Act - the law passed to impose sanctions on human rights abusers in the Kremlin.

SIMON: Yeah, which entails a lot of Mr. Putin supporters, right?

ISIKOFF: Correct. And this is something that was very much strongly opposed by the Putin government. They were outraged that the United States government was taking this position. And they retaliated by restricting adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

SIMON: And let me ask you about some of the Trump business connections in Russia. The president famously said at one point during the campaign, I have nothing to do with Russia. You've been writing about some of the dealings. And some of this could go back to the Miss Universe contest.

ISIKOFF: Well, in fact, it does. I mean, that was what was so startling for me when I - when I saw the emails when they were released because the author is Rob Goldstone, who's a former British tabloid reporter turned music publicist who was representing a pop singer in Russia named Emin Agalarov. And the Agalarov - Emin Agalarov is the son of Aras Agalarov, a billionaire Russian oligarch very close to Vladimir Putin. In fact, he was known as Putin's builder because of these massive construction projects he'd done for the Kremlin. And the way Goldstone presents it, the Agalarovs were this - going to be the source of the information that the Russian government wanted to provide to Donald Trump.

That's significant because the Agalarovs were, in effect, Trump's business partners in Moscow both on the Miss Universe pageant, which was - which they helped sponsor in 2013 - paid millions of dollars and offered up their concert hall, Crocus Hall, for the venue. But at that event, they signed a business deal - a formal letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. I spoke to Rob Goldstone about this some months ago. And he explained how Donald Trump Jr. was put in charge of the project. And Ivanka Trump even flies over to Moscow in February 2014 to scout potential sites for the property with Emin Agalarov.

SIMON: Michael Isikoff is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News. Hope you'll come back again. I think...

ISIKOFF: Anytime.

SIMON: ...Somehow the news will be there. Thanks very much for being with us.

ISIKOFF: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.