WASHINGTON — It was over dinner at a ritzy Las Vegas restaurant that Donald Trump first bonded with Azerbaijani pop singer Emin Agalarov — appropriately enough, with boasts about sleeping with beauty queens.
It was June 2013, and the two men were finalizing an agreement for Trump to bring his Miss Universe pageant that year to Moscow to be hosted — in exchange for a hefty licensing fee — by the singer’s billionaire oligarch father, Aras Agalarov.
“Out of nowhere,” Rob Goldstone, Agalarov’s longtime gadfly publicist, writes in a new book, Trump leaned over to the younger Agalarov during their Las Vegas dinner and loudly proclaimed, “I’ll reduce the fee for the pageant by a million dollars if you tell me right now if you’ve slept with any of the contestants.”
Not to be outdone, Agalarov shot back: “Mr. Trump, I will add $5 million to the fee if you tell me right now if you’ve slept with any contestants.” At that point, Goldstone informs us, Trump called off the bet.
“I knew right then and there this was a match made in frat boy heaven,” writes Goldstone in his self-published book, “Pop Stars, Pageants & Presidents: How an Email Trumped My Life.” (The book, an advance copy of which was provided to Yahoo News, is out next week.)
Goldstone was always an improbable figure in the story of Trump’s Russia ties — a party-loving ex-British tabloid reporter who was drawn to celebrities and pop singers, traversing the globe while writing occasional newspaper pieces such as one memorably titled, “The Tricks and Trials of Traveling While Fat.” By his own admission, he had little interest in politics or international diplomacy. But in his efforts to promote the career of Agalarov, his rich boy client, he had a keen sense of how to push Trump’s buttons and grab his attention — talents, he ultimately concludes, that may have turned him into an unwitting “patsy” for Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election.
As has been reported before, it was Goldstone who first came up with the idea of pitching Trump’s Miss Universe executives with a plan to hold the 2013 pageant in Moscow with Aras Agalarov hosting it at his grand glittering showcase, Crocus City Hall — all as a way to boost Emin Agalarov’s music career by arranging for him to be the event’s star entertainment.
And Goldstone figured out early on how to encourage Trump’s enthusiasm for the project. “I told him how Russia loved him … not just for his business skills but for his praise and admiration for President Putin,” he writes.
The same PR skills came into play three years later when Goldstone would write the now notorious email that would pique the interest of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors and congressional investigators — and make him, for a brief moment, a world famous figure.
It was on the morning of June 3, 2016 — smack in the middle of the U.S. presidential election — when, Goldstone writes, he got a “very strange” phone call from Emin in Moscow asking him to set up a meeting with “the Trumps” for a “well-connected” Russian attorney with some damaging information about questionable funding for the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.
“Well-connected… Connected to what? The power grid?” Goldstone says he sarcastically replied.
Emin, Goldstone insists, provided him with few other details, raising the PR man’s suspicions. “You know, nothing good can come of this,” he warned him. Still, he took it from there and followed orders: In a matter of minutes, he banged out on his iPhone the now-infamous message to Donald Trump Jr., skillfully embroidering the sketchy information he had been given with provocative language intended to grab the attention of his target audience.
“Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” he wrote. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his 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. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”