The timeline is intriguing: On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. received the first email from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who had helped the Trump organization bring the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow on behalf of the Russian-Azerbaijani billionaire Aras Agalarov. Goldstone offered the campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government’s “crown prosecutor”—a reference to Yuri Chaika, Russia’s current prosecutor general. The information “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone wrote. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied, according to an email chain he released last summer only after The New York Times exposed the meeting. He forwarded the email chain to Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, both of whom had also attended the Trump Tower meeting.
It could have been around that time that Trump Jr. told his father about the offer, if Cohen’s accusation is to be believed. Which makes the speech Trump gave on June 7—the day the June 9 Trump Tower meeting was finalized—all the more interesting. “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” Trump told a crowd at a campaign rally. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
But Trump never gave that speech. Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner have all claimed the meeting produced nothing of immediate value. (In an interview with NBC News earlier this year, the Russian lawyer tasked with bringing the information, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner “wanted” the damaging information “so badly” that they seemed to tune her out once she began discussing Magnitsky Act sanctions. The sanctions were implemented to punish Russian nationals accused of corruption and human-rights abuses in 2012.)
Democrats have suggested that three phone calls Trump Jr. placed to blocked telephone numbers before and after the meeting could have been to his father, but Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that he couldn’t recall. “So you don’t know whether or not this might have been your father?” congressional investigators asked during his interview, according to the transcript released by the committee earlier this year. “I don’t,” Trump Jr. responded.
Sam Nunberg, a Republican operative who worked on Trump’s campaign in its early stages, said he thinks it’s likely Trump was told about the meeting beforehand primarily because of his prior relationship with the Russian billionaire who proposed it to begin with—Agalarov. Trump first met Agalarov in 2013 in Las Vegas, where they discussed bringing Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow and holding it at a mall complex Agalarov owned on the outskirts of the city. But Nunberg said he still believes that the meeting “was ultimately harmless” because “there was no discussion about Clinton’s emails.” Veselnitskaya “exploited that relationship to get a meeting on her niche issue,” Nunberg said.