Why the Rob Goldstone email inviting Donald Trump Jr. to collude was so effective

Photo of Rob Goldstone by Adriel Reboh/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

We can now see the email that publicist Rob Goldstone sent to Donald Trump Jr. on June 3 of last year, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. It follows my email principles; it’s short, direct, fact-based, and relevant to the recipient. And sure enough, it got the meeting. Let’s deconstruct it, as well as Trump, Jr.’s comments when he posted it.

The Goldstone email is clear, brief, and perfectly baited

Donald Trump Jr. posted the email chain on Twitter just after he learned that The New York Times was about to make it public. For context, see the Times’ writeup of the email. To understand this, it helps to know that pop star Emin Agalarav and his father Aras are acquaintances of the Trumps through the Miss Universe pageant they worked on together in Moscow; Donald Trump Sr. appeared in the younger Agalarav’s music video. Goldstone, their publicist, sent this brief and pointed 267-word email, of which 137 words are content and the rest is boilerplate in the signature.

Subject: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

Analysis: I cannot be sure this was the original subject line, but from the way the email thread is shown in Trump Jr’s twitter post, it seems likely that it was. Ideally, this would explain what the sender wanted the recipient to do (for example, “Russian government willing to share incriminating information about Hillary Clinton”). But perhaps Goldstone was too shy to be that clear in the subject line. Instead, he includes the words “Russia” “Clinton” and “confidential,” which, together with the sender, were sufficient to interest Trump Jr.

Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

Analysis: In emails, I recommend getting to the point quickly, withe the minimum possible greeting. Goldstone drops Emin’s name and the weasel words “very interesting,” but from there gets right to the point.

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.

Analysis: Note the active voice sentences. We know who has the information (“The Crown Prosecutor”) and what he wants to do with it (“offer official documents and information”). And we why it would interest Trump Jr, because it would “incriminate Hillary.” “Would be very useful to your father” is redundant, but the message is clear. (It’s so clear that there’s no question that Donald Trump Jr, upon reading it, would be expecting to get incriminating information from the Russian government. This was just after Trump had suggested that the Russians should hack Hillary, and the only type of nonpublic, incriminating information the Russian government would have would be information from spying.) The clarity of this passage was instantly attractive to Trump Jr; for the same reason, it’s now unambiguously shady and possibly illegal.

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.

Analysis: Redundant, and “very high level” is a weasel word. But the words in this sentence set the hook nicely. They also prove that Russia backed Trump, which Trump Sr. has never admitted.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

Analysis: Clear statement about what the sender wants to know next, right out of my playbook for emails.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Analysis: Rhona is Donald Trump Sr.’s secretary. This sentence provides an alternative pathway, and probably caused Trump Jr to act more quickly so he could be the first to see the information.


Rob Goldstone

This iphone speaks many languages

This e-mail message, and any attachments to it, are for the sole use of the intended recipients, and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution of this email message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message. Please note that any views or opinions presented in this email are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the company. Finally, while the company uses virus protection, the recipient should check this email and any attachments for the presence of viruses. The company accepts no liability for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this email

Analysis: The boilerplate message at the end of the email is ludicrous, as all such disclaimers are. I’d judge that Trump Jr.’s posting of the email on Twitter is falls under “unauthorized disclosure or distribution” and by this disclaimer would be prohibited. What’s Goldstone going to do now? Sue Donald Trump, Jr. for his indiscretion in publishing an invitation to collude?

Donald Trump Jr.’s accompanying statement is also clear — and irrelevant

As you can see from the email thread, Trump Jr. responds “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” In the end, he didn’t meet or speak with Emin, he and campaign bigwigs Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. When she didn’t provide any useful information on Clinton, Trump Jr. ended the meeting.

Here’s what Trump Jr. said about the email in his Twitter post:

To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016. The first email on June 3, 2016 was from Rob, who was relating a request from Emin, a person I knew from the 2013 Ms. Universe Pageant near Moscow. Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow. The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research. I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act. To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue. As Rob Goldstone said just today in the press, the entire meeting was “the most inane nonsense l ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it.”

Does this exonerate Donald Trump Jr.? Not even close.

  • “Totally transparent” — this came after two contradictory statements from Donald Trump Jr. that didn’t mention the idea that Vaselnitskaya had information on Hillary Clinton.
  • “Political Opposition Research” — the original email describes the information as sensitive information from the Russian Crown Prosecutor. That sounds a lot more like the results of spying than opposition research, which would not be particularly sensitive.
  • “The woman . . . was not a government official” — even if this is true, it’s irrelevant, as he believed she was carrying sensitive political information from the Russian government.
  • “She had no information to provide” — from the perspective of collusion, the intent to collude is what is relevant. What matters to prosecutors and the court of public opinion is that Trump believed he was getting dirt on Clinton, not that he never got any (at least in this meeting).
  • “This occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue.” — meeting with foreign agents to get information on election opponents is equally questionable regardless of when the rest of the world realizes that Russians are hacking the election.

“It didn’t work” is not a defense against claims of collusion. Intent is what matters. While Trump Jr.’s statement is clear enough, it doesn’t address whether what he did was wrong.

Clarity is a bitch. In the case of Goldstone’s email, it both attracted Donald Trump Jr. and, when revealed, damned him. In the case of Trump Jr.’s statement, it demonstrates that he doesn’t understand or won’t address the intent to collude. If you’re going to be clear about doing something wrong, be prepared to be embarrassed or prosecuted when your statements become public.

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