'It was a bad idea': music publicist was unlikely fixer of Trump Tower meeting

David Smith and Ben Jacobs in Washington
Rob Goldstone helped arrange the meeting, attended by Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

All publicity is good publicity. Unless, it seems, you are a music promoter from Manchester in the UK and the alleged go-between for Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Kremlin.

Rob Goldstone appears like a rabbit caught in the headlights in more than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits released on Wednesday by the Senate judiciary committee in Washington.

According to Goldstone’s testimony, his longtime client, Azerbaijani Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, tried to persuade him that the firestorm around the British publicist’s brokering of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower was “mega PR”, adding: “This is making you one of the most famous people in the world.”

Goldstone replied: “You know, [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer was famous. I don’t think he got a lot of work out of it.” He then hung up the phone.

The interview transcripts contain fresh insights into the Trump Tower rendezvous involving a Russian lawyer who has since admitted to working with the Kremlin. But at times, they read like the draft of a black comedy in the vein of The Thick of It or Veep.

Goldstone helped arrange the meeting, attended by Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with the promise of dirt on rival candidate Hillary Clinton. He told senators he did so through Trump Jr rather than Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff because he “he was the lesser level”.

One senator asked: “Were you keeping the meeting secret?”

Goldstone, a former journalist, replied: “Well, I checked in for it on Facebook, so not really.”

And why did he check in on Facebook so that anyone could see his location? “Because any time I would check in at Trump Tower, it would annoy 99.9% of my friends.”

The PR man, who grew up on a council estate in northern Manchester, told the committee that Agalarov had insisted he help set up the meeting despite his own misgivings. “I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it. And I gave the reason for that being that I’m a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about.”

His testimony supported the claim of Trump Jr that the meeting failed to live up to the hype, discussing adoption laws rather than than ammunition against Clinton: any attempt at collusion was torpedoed by incompetence.

“I thought, OK, maybe here’s the smoking gun or whatever it is that’s coming,” Goldstone recalled. “And then the next thing I start hearing about adoption and sanctions and the impact that that is having on adoption and Americans. And that is when I completely tuned out and was like we’re having a meeting about adoption. I don’t get this.”

He added: “On the way out, Don Jr kind of thanked me. And I said to him, I’m sorry. I’m really embarrassed by this meeting. I don’t know what that was about.”

The laconic publicist – who claims to have worked with Michael Jackson, BB King, Richard Branson and EMI Music Publishing also admitted to getting confused. A senator noted that he had mentioned a meeting “in October” and wondered what he was referring to.

Goldstone answered: “The fact that I’m now 57 and demented. I mean the June meeting.”

Senator: “All right.”

Goldstone: “With respect.”

At another point, Goldstone was asked whether he has any ties to Russia other than his work for the Agalarov, whose father is a billionaire property developer friendly with Putin. He replied: “Well, I believe that my great-grandmother was from Minsk.”

His committee interview also ranged over past events including Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, which the New York businessman invited Putin to attend. Goldstone testified that Putin’s spokesman called to say he was unable to schedule a meeting with Trump “due to the tardiness of the King of Holland”.

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Then, in New York in 2015, Goldstone and Agalarov had a 10-minute meeting with Trump, who was “listening to very loud rap music” when they walked in. “I cautioned him that he should perhaps look at the words to the song before he enjoyed it so much.”

Trump Jr himself also testified to the Senate judiciary committee and claimed that he could not remember whether he had discussed the Russia investigation with his father.

The president’s son was asked about a meeting with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. Trump Jr said he did not go in and join the meeting. “Why not?” was the question. He replied: “Because I didn’t know what it was about and I was sweaty from the gym.”