Ivanka Trump’s Russian contacts included a Kremlin-linked fashion blogger

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a top White House adviser, was involved in several of the contacts between Russia and the commander in chief’s inner circle that are detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The document, which was released on Thursday, describes Ivanka Trump’s work on the Trump Tower Moscow project, her role in the response to the infamous 2016 meeting between a lawyer linked to the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and an interaction with a fashion influencer who approached her on behalf of the Kremlin.

Ivanka Trump’s contacts with the Russians were among a slew of “links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign” that were outlined in Mueller’s report on his investigation into the Kremlin’s interference with the 2016 election. The report was based on testimony from key witnesses and documents that were obtained by the special counsel.

Ivanka Trump, assistant to the president, stands up as she is recognized by President Donald Trump at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2019. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

According to the report, “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally” from Moscow’s efforts. Mueller’s report ultimately said the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” However, the report also noted “a statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” The report also presented much of the evidence of Russian contacts with Trump’s inner circle, including the instances that involved Ivanka Trump.

The most notable revelation in the report is that Ivanka Trump may have been aware of a June 9, 2016, meeting where her brother Donald Trump Jr. and top Trump campaign officials met with a lawyer linked to the Russian government, Natalia Veselnitskaya. That meeting was arranged by her brother after he was told Veselnitskaya had information that could damage Donald Trump’s election rival, Hillary Clinton.

According to the report, Rick Gates, the former deputy of Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, testified that Ivanka Trump was present for a previous meeting of Trump family members where Donald Trump Jr. “announced” that “he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation.” Gates said Ivanka Trump joined the discussion “late.” He also said Paul Manafort, the Donald Trump campaign chairman, warned the group that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting “likely would not yield vital information and they should be careful.”

The so-called Trump Tower Meeting has been the subject of intense speculation and coverage since it was revealed in a July 2017 New York Times story. It was one of the few known instances of the Trump campaign potentially receiving help from Kremlin-linked figures during the election.

Despite the curiosity surrounding the meeting, the Mueller report indicates it was a fairly inconsequential affair that “lasted approximately 20 minutes.” According to the report, Veselnitskaya said she had information showing a pair of brothers had engaged in illegal financial schemes in Russia and funneled the money to Clinton.

Witnesses told Mueller and his team that Donald Trump Jr. was “aggravated” when Veselnitskaya could not substantiate those claims. Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, who later became a top White House adviser, was also present. Messages obtained by the special counsel indicate Kushner extricated himself after sending “two separate emails” to assistants asking them to “call him to give him an excuse to leave.”

Ivanka Trump was also involved in Donald Trump’s response when the meeting first became public. The Mueller report explains that attorneys at Donald Trump’s company became aware of the meeting in June 2017 when emails about it surfaced after the Senate Intelligence Committee requested documents detailing contacts between any "individual affiliated with the Trump campaign" and "any individual formally or informally affiliated with the Russian government or Russian business interests.”

From left: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Lara Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Tiffany Trump look on during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C. President Trump's second State of the Union address was postponed one week due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Two former White House spokespeople, Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, testified to Mueller’s team that Ivanka Trump and Kushner met with Donald Trump at the White House residence in late June 2017 where they attempted to discuss the documents about the meeting and to formulate a strategy because “the emails were damaging and would inevitably be leaked.” The report said Kushner attempted to show Donald Trump the documents, but the president “said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.”

Donald Trump also rejected subsequent efforts by Hicks, Ivanka Trump and Kushner to discuss the documents and come up with a plan to get ahead of any potential story about them in the press.

Ivanka Trump accompanied the president on an overseas trip in July 2017 where the situation came to a head. On July 7, the report said Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times would be reporting on the Trump Tower meeting and had obtained Donald Trump Jr.’s emails setting up the gathering. The following day, during the return trip on board Air Force One, Hicks brought President Trump a draft statement that Donald Trump Jr. planned to release to the paper.

“Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the president directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much,” the report said, explaining that Donald Trump asked Hicks to omit details describing the damaging information the lawyer offered to the campaign.

The report does not indicate whether Ivanka Trump played any role in providing input on Donald Trump Jr.’s statement beyond noting that she was onboard the flight where it was discussed. The incident is important because some experts have suggested Donald Trump could have committed obstruction of justice by encouraging his son to make a false statement. Mueller declined to make a determination about whether Donald Trump was guilty of obstruction based on the information he uncovered in his probe. Instead, Mueller left that decision up to Attorney General William Barr, who declined to charge the president.

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Ivanka Trump, did not respond to requests for comment on record about the various portions of the report where she is involved. However, a footnote in the section of the report dealing with Donald Trump being informed about the meeting with Veselnitskaya and his suggestions for Donald Trump Jr.’s statement specified that “Counsel for Ivanka Trump provided an attorney proffer that is consistent with Hicks's account and with the other events involving lvanka Trump set forth in this section of the report.”

Ivanka Trump, right, waves as she is introduced by President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)

Ivanka Trump’s name first appears in a section of Mueller’s report that described her efforts to help her father build a skyscraper in Moscow when she was working with Trump’s real estate company. The report described how, in February 2014, Ivanka Trump traveled to Moscow and met with Emin Agalarov, a pop singer and the son of a Russian real estate magnate whose company was in talks to develop a tower with Trump in Moscow. According to the report, that project “appears not to have developed past the planning stage” and the final communications about it occurred in November 2014.

The following year, Donald Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen revived the efforts to build a Trump-branded skyscraper in Russia. Cohen began working with Felix Sater, a businessman who had previously worked with the Trump Organization and accompanied Ivanka Trump on her trip to Moscow. According to the Mueller report, Cohen “discussed” aspects of the project with Ivanka Trump, including “design elements” and “possible architects.” The report also describes an incident in late 2015 where the wife of an executive at a large Russian electric company contacted Ivanka Trump to offer her husband’s “assistance to the Trump Campaign.”

“Ivanka Trump forwarded the email to Cohen,” the report said.

In November 2018, Yahoo News first reported that Mueller was looking into the role Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. played in the Trump Moscow project. The details of Trump’s efforts to build a skyscraper were important because the president was insisting he had no business dealings in Russia on the campaign trail, even as members of his inner circle worked on the project. Cohen was also convicted of making false statements to Congress for lying to the House Intelligence Committee about when he stopped pursuing the Moscow tower deal.

In May 2018, Yahoo News revealed that prosecutors had documents indicating Cohen made false statements to Congress. Cohen ultimately agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.

The Mueller report also reveals that in “late December 2015,” a woman named Miroslava Duma “passed along invitations” from a deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation for Ivanka Trump and her father to attend the St. Petersburg forum. The report described Duma as “a contact of Ivanka Trump’s from the fashion industry.”

It would appear Ivanka Trump passed Duma’s invitation along to her father’s longtime assistant, Rhona Graff. The report said Graff subsequently emailed Duma that Donald Trump would “have to decline.” However, Graff offered to “send a formal note to the Deputy Prime Minister.” A few months later, the Russian official contacted Donald Trump and “Graff prepared for Trump's signature a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation.”

Duma is a well-known Russian fashion blogger and entrepreneur. Duma did not respond to messages sent to her social media accounts requesting comment about her relationship with Ivanka Trump or the Russian government.