WASHINGTON — In the river of revelation and speculation that surrounded Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, no other media bombshell quite matched the disclosure of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top members of the Trump campaign, a Russian lawyer with ties to the Putin regime.
Now that Attorney General William Barr has concluded that no conspiracy was found, the man who instigated that Trump Tower encounter says he’s pleased that Mueller’s team apparently saw the meeting for “what it actually was.”
“It was stupid if it was anything,” says Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who was thrust into the center of the story when the meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July 2017, immediately upending his life and making him a social media target.
He says Barr’s letter does give him some sense of vindication — albeit Goldstone was never a subject or a target, but a witness. Yet Goldstone doubts that the scrutiny over the meeting will cease.
He was among the 81 individuals recently asked to turn over information to the House Judiciary Committee as part of a wide-ranging investigation by Democrats, and he has handed over emails and answered questions. He also believes there is a “fair chance” he will be called to testify, as he did before Mueller’s grand jury.
Then there is the social media chatter.
“The problem is, and I have seen it this week, you go on social media and there are dozens and dozens of people, and they are saying it publicly … ‘Maybe Mueller got it wrong. Maybe Mueller chose not to make a report of it, and there was obviously collusion. And obviously Rob Goldstone’s email proves that.'”
“What I want to say to these people is, ‘What you are saying is that after perhaps two years of one of the most important investigations in political history, you dismissed [Mueller’s conclusions] because you, sitting in front of your computer, wherever you are, know better. And the reason you think you know better is the result isn’t what you thought it would be.'”
Goldstone’s email is the one he sent back in 2016, when he was asked by his client, singer Emin Agalarov, to use connections with Trump to set up a meeting between a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Donald Trump Jr.
Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr., “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting 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.”
Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
In his recent book and many interviews, Goldstone says his email was “overly puffed up,” a PR person’s embellishment to get Trump Jr.’s attention.
Trump Jr. set it up, and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort joined in the meeting, but Goldstone says it was a bust. The lawyer ended up talking about Russian adoption.
He says he apologized to Trump Jr. at the end of the meeting and he said to him, “I just have no idea what that meeting was about.”
What triggered suspicion were the Trump team’s shifting explanations for what the meeting was about. When the Times published the initial story about the meeting, the Trump team initially described the meeting as about Russian adoption. But Trump Jr. later released the email chain showing that they thought that the lawyer would have dirt on Clinton.
Goldstone is naturally interested to read what Mueller says about the meeting, but “we haven’t seen the report. Maybe it says [the Trump team] were idiots. Maybe it says that they didn’t know any better. Maybe it says that they were naive. I don’t know. But those would be words that wouldn’t surprise me if they were in there, that it wasn’t conspiratorial. It wasn’t criminal. It was stupid if it was anything.”
He says Trump Jr. and Kushner were perhaps not “savvy enough in the world of politics” and in the legal profession to know the perils of taking the meeting, but he wonders why then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed.
“When people say to me, ‘Why didn’t you, Rob Goldstone, an ex-journalist and a publicist from England, know that this was wrong, and go to the FBI and say to the Trumps, ‘You can’t take this meeting.’ My answer was, ‘OK, I get that, but I didn’t know any better.’ But shouldn’t the chairman of the Trump campaign have known that? He is a savvy political operative.”
Still, Goldstone is also a critic of the way media outlets have covered the Russia investigation over the past two years, what with the “bombardment” of cable news punditry, of “people saying, ‘Well, we have direct evidence of conspiracy. Evidence of collusion.'”
The effect has been to raise expectations to the point of letdown, when in fact “it is a good thing that they found no collusion,” Goldstone says. “It is not something for people to jump up and down and be angry about. It shows that at least the man who leads the free world didn’t conspire with the Russians. That is something people should be happy about.”
Goldstone even says his “ears prick up” when Trump refers to the media as “fake news,” because he thinks he may have a “bit of a point.” “It is just a shame that he bridles all of the media, tries to saddle most of it, except the ones he likes, as fake news because that is not true.”
In the wake of Barr’s letter, it is not all that surprising that Trump has further attacked the media, with his campaign even sending letters to producers suggesting that they think twice about booking a series of White House critics as guests. Outlets like the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post have defended their coverage of the investigation, but Goldstone still finds fault in the way that so much airtime was given to commentary and speculation.
“You have outlets who are constantly 24 hours a day having talking heads giving their opinions,” he says. Opinions are fine, but the problem is opinions shouldn’t be facts, and the problem is that these people hypothesize, and those thoughts become facts.” He faults news that has become “really some form of political entertainment or political theater. It is not fact.”
He adds, “People get caught up in the hysteria of a big story, and when I was a journalist, I worked for tabloids. I wasn’t some sort of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. I understand that. But there should be some accountability, and I think the problem is the rolling news cycle and social media.”
Goldstone is weighing going back into media himself — but back in the United Kingdom. He wrote about his situation in the book “Pop Stars, Pageants & Presidents: How An Email Trumped My Life.” He’s also going to be attending this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner as a guest of an undisclosed media outlet. He says it’s been difficult as a music publicist as he’s become the bigger story, where news outlets are more interested in talking to him rather than his clients.
“So it is a very, very complicated and very difficult position that I find myself in,” he says. “Somebody said to me, ‘You are kind of like Monica Lewinsky.’ I get it, but I do understand that it has taken Monica Lewinsky two decades to rehabilitate her name. There are definitely similarities. In my case it is perhaps even stronger because we have social media now.”