Last Updated: 12:04 p.m. EDT
It took four years longer than he’d hoped, but on Tuesday the Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov finally succeeded in his aim of using Donald Trump to make his son Emin famous in the United States.
The plan was hatched in 2013, when the elder Agalarov paid Trump handsomely to bring his Miss Universe contestants to Moscow, where they were required to swoon in a music video intended to launch Emin’s singing career.
That capped an extremely high-profile two weeks for Aras Agalarov, who had received the Order of Honor of the Russian Federation from President Vladimir Putin just 10 days before the pageant.
For all that, and despite Trump’s tweets of praise for the father and son, with whom he also hoped to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, the Agalarovs remained relatively unknown outside Russia.
That changed on Tuesday, however, with the release of an email a publicist for the family sent to Donald Trump Jr. on June 3, 2016, offering to pass on secret information about Hillary Clinton from one of the most senior officials in the Russian government.
The publicist, Rob Goldstone, wrote that Aras Agalarov had met that day with Russia’s top law enforcement official, who “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
Goldstone, a former tabloid journalist from Britain, mistakenly called the official “the Crown prosecutor of Russia,” but he appears to have been referring to the prosecutor general of Russia, Yuri Chaika.
As Julia Ioffe explains in The Atlantic, “Chaika is part of the bloc of siloviki — or people allied with security services, literally the people who settle disputes through force — inside the Kremlin,” and “Putin has willfully turned a blind eye as Chaika’s two adult sons have made a killing, accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars in business and choice government contracts.”
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin,” Goldstone added in his email.
Donald Jr. replied enthusiastically to the offer of help — “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” — and met six days later in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was described to him by Goldstone as a “Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this.” Veselnitskaya is also, as the New York Times reports and The Intercept has independently confirmed, a close associate of Yuri Chaika, whose role is equivalent to that of the U.S. attorney general.
While Donald Jr. and Veselnitskaya now maintain that she provided no useful intelligence on Hillary Clinton at the meeting, the Agalarovs seem to have secured a place in American political history by brokering the meeting.
But that family name, and the contours of the plot described in the email, were already well-known to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who spent much of last year compiling a private intelligence dossier on what sources in Russia described to him as a Kremlin operation to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
Steele’s report, commissioned by Fusion GPS, a “strategic intelligence” firm in Washington working for anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats — published by BuzzFeed in January — includes repeated references to intelligence on Clinton gathered by Russian spies during her trips to Russia.
According to Steele’s sources, however, the material did not include details or evidence of embarrassing or unorthodox behavior, but was comprised mainly of bugged conversations during which Clinton made comments “which contradicted her current position on various issues.”
(In a bizarre twist, at the same time that Fusion GPS was paying Steele to investigate possible collusion between Trump and the Russian government, the firm was accused in a complaint filed with the Department of Justice last July of also working with Veselnitskaya to try to have U.S. sanctions on Russian officials lifted.)
Steele reported that at least two sources said that information of some kind on Clinton had been provided to the Trump campaign by Russia. One of those sources, described as “a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow,” reported in June 2016 “that this Russian intelligence had been ‘very helpful.'”
One of Steele’s sources also claimed that the theft of emails from Democratic officials, later provided to WikiLeaks, “had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”
Stolen emails were not mentioned in the plot to help Trump described to Donald Jr. by Goldstone, but it was just three days after the June 9 meeting with Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower that Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, first revealed that he had obtained what turned out to be emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.
Later in his report, Steele said that two sources in another Russian city, St. Petersburg, claimed that Trump had illicit sexual encounters there during another trip. Both of those sources claimed that a business associate of Trump, Aras Agalarov, “will know the details.”
Among those entirely unsurprised by the revelation that Agalarov was named at the center of a plot to help the Russian government help Trump was Alexey Navalny, the opposition activist who hopes to run against Putin in the 2018 Russian presidential election.
Writing on his blog, Navalny called the idea of a Putin-Chaika-Agalarov-Trump pipeline “very plausible.”
As Navalny noted, Agalarov seems to be close to Chaika and spoke out loudly in his defense in 2015, when Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation produced a damning investigative report accusing the prosecutor of having abused his position to make his two sons fabulously wealthy.
As The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe notes, Navalny’s foundation has a political edge, but his reports on powerful Kremlin figures are well-documented pieces of investigative journalism. His report on Chaika showed that his sons “used the protection afforded to them by their father’s office and the prosecutors he oversaw to rig state auctions of choice assets and extort whole businesses from people, including from one man who ended up strangled to death.”
On Wednesday morning in Russia, Aras Agalarov claimed in a radio interview that he does not know Rob Goldstone.
If so, the elder Agalarov must have either a terrible memory or extremely poor vision, since a photograph posted on Facebook by Goldstone on June 16, 2013, shows that the publicist was seated right next his client, Agalarov’s son, and across the table from the oligarch himself, during a working dinner with Trump in Las Vegas, when the family secured the right to host the Miss Universe pageant.
Two more photographs of the dinner posted on Live Journal by Yulya Alferova, an Agalarov employee who worked on the pageant, showed that Aras Agalarov was seated directly across the table from Trump, Emin, and Goldstone.
If Aras Agalarov does need to be reminded of who Rob Goldstone is, he could also speak with his wife, Irina Agalarova, since she posted an Instagram photograph of herself “with Rob” at the venue for the pageant on November 6, 2013, three nights before the event.
For his part, Goldstone extensively documented his role at the pageant in updates to his public Facebook account at the time, which were still accessible on Wednesday. Those updates include images taken at the “Agalarov estate,” during the filming of Emin’s music video with Trump, during a post-rehearsal party, and backstage at the pageant.
Goldstone’s Facebook updates from the weekend of the pageant also include images of himself partying on consecutive nights at the Moscow branch of Nobu, which is owned by the Agalarovs, along with Emin Agalarov and his mother, Irina, who was a judge at the contest, as well as the musician Steven Tyler, who performed at the show, and Olivia Culpo, Miss Universe 2012, who was featured in another of Emin’s music videos.
As Bloomberg News reported last year, the Agalarovs closed Nobu one night that weekend to host a private party for Trump, where he met “more than a dozen of Russia’s top businessmen, including Herman Gref, the chief executive officer of state-controlled Sberbank PJSC, Russia’s biggest bank.”
Gref, who served as President Putin’s economy minister from 2000 to 2007, told Bloomberg that he had organized the Nobu party for Trump with Aras Agalarov. Sberbank was one of the official sponsors of the 2013 pageant and many of the guests at the Nobu party were bankers.