The leaders of the US Senate Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday they agreed with intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow sought to interfere with the 2016 US election to boost Donald Trump’s prospects of becoming president, reports Reuters.
“There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections,” the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr, said in a joint statement with the committee’s top Democrat after a closed hearing on the issue.
Documents released by a US Senate panel showed on Wednesday said an intermediary of a Russian oligarch and associates of then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump coordinated responses to revelations of a meeting in which Trump’s eldest son expected to get “dirt” on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Many of the documents made public by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley focused on the 9 June 2016, meeting at the Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump, Jr. and Nataliya Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer and acknowledged Kremlin informant.
The meeting is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The thousands of pages of emails, text messages, congressional testimony and other documents released by Grassley, a Republican, provide fresh evidence of coordination between associates of Trump and Russians with ties to president Vladimir Putin’s government.
Moreover, the documents suggest that the coordination continued after Trump’s inauguration. Days after he was named White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci offered to work with Rob Goldstone, an intermediary for a Russian oligarch, to counter “pressure on all sides.”
“If we remain consistent and united I don’t envision any issues we can’t ride out,” Scaramucci wrote in a 23 July 2017, email to Goldstone, a publicist who represents singer Emin Agalarov, the son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov.
Scaramucci, in a text message to Reuters, said the email “had nothing to do with Russia.”
Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate developer who joined Trump in staging the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, is on a list of Russian oligarchs close to Putin released by the White House in January.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia on his campaign and calls Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” Russia rejects findings by US intelligence agencies that it sought to aid Trump using computer hacking, propaganda and other means.
Among the documents released on Wednesday were transcripts of closed-door interviews with Goldstone, and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting, including Trump Jr., Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, and Ike Kavaladze, a US-based Agalarov representative.
Also present were Trump’s son-in-law and close aide Jared Kushner, and senior campaign aide, Paul Manafort, both of whom declined committee interviews. Veselnitskaya declined to be interviewed, but provided written answers to questions.
Emails and texts showed coordination - and a hint of panic - as Goldstone, Emin Agalarov, and Trump Organisation lawyers sought to contain the fallout after the meeting was revealed by emails released by Trump Jr. and the New York Times published an account on 8 July 2017.
The meeting was set up by Goldstone, who offered in a 3 June 2016, email to provide Trump Jr. material harmful to Clinton that Russia’s top prosecutor had given to Aras Agalarov and “would be very useful to your father.”
In an email two days after the meeting was disclosed, Goldstone sent Kavaladze and another recipient - whose name was redacted - a statement drafted in Goldstone’s name by lawyers representing the Trump Organisation and Trump Jr.
In a note to Goldstone accompanying the statement, the lawyers said it would be “our preference” that Goldstone say “nothing more, at least for the time being.”
The statement quoted Goldstone as saying Trump Jr.’s public account of the meeting was “100 per cent accurate” and that Veselnitskaya “mostly talked about” a US law sanctioning Russian officials for alleged human rights abuses and a subsequent Russian bar on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
Lawyers for Goldstone and the Agalarovs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In an undated chain of text messages, Goldstone told Emin Agalarov that he was besieged by inquiries from journalists about the meeting and that he was trying to keep the Agalarovs’ names out of his interviews.
The reporters “all ask about you,” he told Emin, “but I have said request (for the 9 June meeting) was from me. Let’s see if that holds.”
Goldstone went on to relay that the Washington Post was reporting that the FBI was investigating the meeting.
“I hope this favour was worth (it) for your dad. It could blow up. Just got off the phone with Trump lawyers and they would like us to have a blanket no comment for now.”
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organisation and Trump Jr., said in an email to Reuters on Wednesday that Goldstone was advised that “any statement should be accurate as to your very best recollection.”
“The first order of business in any new inquiry is to conduct a thorough investigation in order to determine the facts. That is exactly what occurred here,” he wrote, adding that lawyers interviewed those who attended the meeting.
“Each interviewee was advised that we only wanted to hear the truth,” he said.
In the undated text chain, Goldstone consulted Emin Agalarov on the draft of what he called “my ideal statement” on the Trump Tower meeting.
Senator Mark Warner said, “After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the (intelligence community) conclusions were accurate and on point”.
“The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by president (Vladimir) Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” Warner said.
Their backing of intelligence agencies’ findings contrasted with the assertion weeks earlier by House of Representatives Republicans that Russia had not sought to boost then-Republican candidate Trump, who went on to win the election.
The allegations, and multiple investigations into the matter, have shadowed the first 16 months of Trump’s presidency.
Russia has denied seeking to interfere in the election and Trump has disputed suggestions that Moscow was working on his behalf.
Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Security Agency director Mike Rogers testified at the hearing.
Former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, was invited but did not appear.
Senate Intelligence undertook one of three main congressional probes of Russia and the 2016 election, along with the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into the matter.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House panel, said he agreed with the Senate panel’s conclusion.
Over the objections of Democrats, Republicans who control a majority on the House committee announced in March that the panel had concluded its work and found that Russia did not aim to assist Trump.