Manafort's Trump Tower Notes Lend Some Support To White House Claims About Meeting
Notes taken by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort during the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting refer to "Russian adoptions by American families," according to a transcript of a Senate Judiciary Committee interview released this week.
The notes provide the first contemporaneous evidence that shows that Russia's adoption policy was discussed during that June 9, 2016 meeting, which members of the Trump campaign attended along with a Russian government lawyer and Russian-American lobbyist.
The notes, portions of which were revealed to Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson during his Aug. 22 Senate Judiciary Committee interview, also appear to make no overt reference to anything resembling collusion.
Many of the meeting attendees - including Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - have previously claimed that adoption policy was discussed in the meeting, but no evidence had been made public.
Business Insider first flagged a portion of the transcript which shows Simpson reviewing Manafort's notes, which he reportedly took on an iPhone.
Simpson, whose firm commissioned the infamous Trump dossier, was showed the notes because at the time of the Trump Tower meeting, he was working with Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who also attended the meeting.
Simpson's work with the two Russians dealt directly with the topics that they allegedly discussed with the Trump team.
According to the Senate transcript, Simpson read off several items in the notes, including "Active sponsors of RNC," "Value in 20 Cyprus as inter," and "Illici."
He also identified the phrase "Russian adoptions by American families."
Trump Jr. and the White House have been under intense scrutiny over the Trump Tower meeting as well as a statement issued to The New York Times back in July for its initial report about the meeting.
In a statement to The Times, the White House called the Trump Tower session a "a short introductory meeting."
"We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up," the initial statement read.
The statement left out other issues reportedly discussed in the meeting as well as the offer that prompted Trump Jr. to accept it.
After the initial White House statement was released, Trump Jr. acknowledged that the meeting also touched on the issue of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 sanctions law that blacklists Russian human rights abusers.
The Russian government retaliated against the passage of the law in 2013 by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
As a lobbyist, Akhmetshin used the guise of the adoption ban to convince U.S. lawmakers to make concessions on the Magnitsky Act. The portion of Manafort's notes identified by Simpson do not include references to the law.
Trump Jr. was by no means eager to discuss Russia's adoption ban when accepted the meeting.
He agreed to meet with the Russians after he was contacted by an associate who said that a Russian government attorney - later identified as Veselnitskaya - wanted to meet in New York to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
"If it is what you say I love it," Trump Jr. responded.
Trump Jr. was accompanied in the meeting by Manafort and Jared Kushner.
Simpson was working with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin on an investigation of Bill Browder, a London banker who has helped push through a sanctions law called the Magnitsky Act.
Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has been criticized for working on the seemingly anti-Kremlin Trump dossier project while working at the same time on the pro-Kremlin investigation of Browder.
Simpson's job was to investigate Browder's finances and to poke holes in his allegations about a money laundering scheme involving Russian crime bosses.
Simpson provided much of the research for a four-page memo that Veselnitskaya took into the Trump Tower meeting. The memo accused Browder of using Cyprus-based shell companies to launder money. It also makes one passing reference to campaign contributions that a Browder-connected hedge fund gave to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
In an interview on Fox News in July, Trump Jr. described the meeting as, "Hey, some DNC donors may have done something in Russia and they didn't pay taxes."
"I was, like, 'What does this have to do with anything?'" he said.
Both he and Veselnitskaya have claimed that Clinton was barely discussed in the meeting, which lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.
It is unclear what "active sponsors of RNC" refers to in Manafort's notes, but the reference was the subject of erroneous reporting last year.
On Aug. 31, just over a week after Simpson's interview, NBC News reported the false claim that Manafort's notes included references to the Republican National Committee close to a reference to donations. (RELATED: Yet Another Anonymously Sourced Russia Story Falls Apart)
The story, which was based on two anonymous sources, appeared damning on first blush because it suggested that the Russians and Trump campaign discussed making donations to the RNC.
But a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee disputed the story, saying that Manafort's notes made no reference to donations.
In its initial report, NBC claimed that its two sources said that the word "donations" was near the reference to the RNC. In its corrected report, NBC claimed that one of its sources used the word "donor" while the other source said that a reference to political contributions was made.
NBC's sources have not been identified.