Russian pop star Emin Agalarov – famous in the US more for his connections to President Donald Trump than his music – spoke with Hunter Schwarz of CNN’s COVER/LINE on Wednesday about his role in the Russia investigation and his now-postponed US tour.
The wide-ranging interview touched on the unsuccessful efforts by Agalarov’s lawyers to negotiate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over how he could voluntarily provide testimony. They also talked about his role in arranging the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump’s campaign leaders (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) and a group of Russians who were offering dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Here’s a breakdown of the key parts of the interview and what they tell us about the Mueller investigation and some of the mysteries relating to the Trump Tower meeting.
Emin’s potential testimony
CNN: In your Instagram video, you said you were postponing it. So does that mean you’re looking to reschedule those dates?
AGALAROV: Yeah, that’s our plan, definitely reschedule the dates for the later period, when basically my lawyer can assure me that I could come to the United States freely and leave freely because at this point on Monday I received the information from him that if I do arrive, he cannot guarantee the safety of my departure and the safety of my departure puts claim on my other 50 or 60 shows that I have this year, which obviously I’m stuck and I cannot travel, I’m jeopardizing my entire touring schedule.
Agalarov’s lawyers tried to reach a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller – and Congressional investigators – over the contours of his testimony before he stepped foot on American soil. Those talks broke down last week, CNN reported, triggering the cancellation of Agalarov’s tour dates in the US.
The young pop star went one step further than his attorneys. He made it clear that US authorities weren’t willing to give assurances that he would be able to freely leave the country once he was here.
It’s difficult to discern exactly what that means, without hearing from the US government, which hasn’t offered any public comments. The gravest scenario for Agalarov is that prosecutors could have criminal charges prepared and he could be charged once he’s in the US.
Another possibility is that investigators want to subpoena Agalarov to testify before a grand jury or show up for a hearing on Capitol Hill before his scheduled departure. That would put him in an uncomfortable position and force him to testify without any pre-negotiated restrictions – precisely what his lawyers have been trying to avoid. (To be clear, Agalarov himself says he is “ready to sit down and do any interview with anybody,” but his lawyers see it differently.)
It’s also possible that investigators simply didn’t want to make any promises. If he spoke with investigators and lied during the interview, he could be charged with federal crimes, preventing him from leaving the country. Agalarov has said all along that he didn’t do anything wrong.
The Trump Tower meeting
CNN: And you’ve said about that meeting that someone asked your dad to set that up, but you don’t know who. Have you found out anything since then about who asked him to set that up?
CNN: Is that something you’re curious about at all? Have you asked your dad about it?
AGALAROV: We haven’t had a conversation about it recently.
CNN: Is it something you’re curious about? Do you wonder who it was?
AGALAROV: No and I don’t even care. I know that the outcome of the meeting was completely pointless, so obviously that’s something investigators should be finding out and this is as much as I know and this is as much as I’m willing to share.
CNN: So, your former publicist Rob Goldstone, he said in his email to Donald Trump Jr. that it was “puffed up” and the term “Crown prosecutor” was an exaggeration. Do you think, though, that he could have meant Russia’s prosecutor general?
AGALAROV: I have no idea. I know that I think “Crown prosecutor” is a title that does not exist at all in Russia, so obviously, that underlines the fact that Rob didn’t know what he was talking about.
CNN: The lawyer, Natalia (Veselnitskaya), though, who met with Donald Trump Jr. she said that she worked with Russia’s prosecutor general. Do you think that there could have been a confusion between those two titles?
AGALAROV: You see, now the questions you’re asking me are part of the investigation. I’d probably prefer to answer them once thoroughly to the investigators and not to a journalist from CNN or BBC.
This part of the interview requires a bit of context.
Agalarov and his father, billionaire oligarch Aras Agalarov, know the Trump family because they worked together on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow. In June 2016, the elder Agalarov asked his son for a favor – to introduce a Russian lawyer to Donald Trump Jr. for a meeting.
The younger Agalarov asked his longtime publicist Rob Goldstone to send the email and make it happen.
In a email to Trump Jr., Goldstone wrote: “Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. 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.”
There isn’t any “Crown prosecutor” in Russia. But the Russian lawyer who attended the meeting at Trump Tower, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has close ties with Prosecutor General of Russia Yuri Chaika. In public interviews last year, Goldstone said that “Crown prosecutor” was a reference to Veselnitskaya.
Emin says he doesn’t know who Goldstone was talking about. This might be some willful ignorance – maybe Emin doesn’t want to know who asked his father to arrange the Trump Tower meeting. If he doesn’t know, he dodges questions like these in media interviews, and he’s been asked plenty of times. In the CNN interview, Emin seemingly acknowledges talking to his dad about this topic, but says “we haven’t had a conversation about it recently.”
If the phrase is a reference to Chaika, it would put the Kremlin’s fingerprints even more directly on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Chaika is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And while the Trump Tower meeting went down in New York City, Putin was overseeing a wide-ranging operation to interfere in the 2016 election and help Trump win, according to the US intelligence community.
Russian interference in 2016
CNN: Just another question about Rob Goldstone. He said he believes Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign in the US. Do you agree with that?
AGALAROV: I disagree with that, but anything is possible, I guess. But it’s very funny sentences to present, because how could Russia interfere with an American election. Or America interfere with a Russian election. I mean, it’s ridiculous. People vote, you know. What can you interfere with?
Like most prominent Russians, Agalarov rejected the consensus of the US intelligence community that his country’s government interfered in the US presidential election in 2016. Trump has also questioned these conclusions. Putin flat-out rejects them and says there was no meddling.
But Agalarov broke with the Kremlin line when he said that America probably doesn’t interfere in Russian elections. Before Putin’s re-election last year, the Russian government claimed that the US was trying to meddle in the election and undermine Putin. Alleged American interference in domestic Russian political affairs is a recurring talking point on Kremlin-run propaganda outlets.
But the idea of election interference isn’t as “ridiculous” as Agalarov says. People vote, of course. But influence campaigns – like the one in 2016 – are real, as the US intelligence community says, and can have an impact on how voters think and act.