At The 2013 Miss Universe Contest, Trump Met Some Of Russia's Rich And Powerful

Jul 17, 2017
Originally published on July 18, 2017 5:36 am

The political bomb that went off recently when Donald Trump Jr. revealed he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in hopes of getting damaging information about Hillary Clinton has raised new questions about the Trump family's connections to Russia.

And investigators are looking for clues in what might seem like an unlikely place: the glitzy November 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

It was there that Trump — then the pageant's owner — spent several days hobnobbing with Russia's elite and getting to know a wealthy developer whose connections his son would later seek to capitalize on.

According to an email released last week by Donald Trump Jr., the developer, billionaire Aras Agalarov, offered to pass on information about Clinton from Russia's top prosecutor to help the Trump campaign. He denies the charge.

Trump was already well known in Russia when he decided to bring the pageant to Moscow.

"Everyone wanted to meet him, of course. He was like a big deal, and I'm pretty sure in Russia he was already a TV personality, so he was already famous," said Gabriel Rivera-Barraza, a New York-based publicist who served as a preliminary judge at the pageant.

The contest would be held at Crocus City Hall, a venue owned by Agalarov. The event would be a family affair: Agalarov's son, a pop singer named Emin, performed on stage and his wife was a judge.

The Agalarov family's involvement appears to have helped create some buzz for the pageant.

"Agalarov is somebody who's well connected. He would have been able to produce a lot of important people to come and watch the Miss Universe pageant," said Kathryn Stoner, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Trump himself would later boast about the many highfliers he met in Moscow, during a 2015 appearance on Hugh Hewitt's radio show.

"I was with the top level people, both oligarchs and generals and top-of-the-government people. I can't go further than that, but I will tell you I met the top people," Trump said.

For a while at least, it even appeared that Russian President Vladimir Putin might show up.

"There was certainly excitement within the organization, because the way that it had been described to us was that there was the likelihood that Putin would be attending," said MSNBC host Thomas Roberts, who emceed the event.

"We had to be certainly very careful. I was not allowed to make any type of political statement or go rogue," Roberts also said.

The pageant even warned Roberts and his co-host, Mel B of the Spice Girls, not to attempt to say any Russian words because a mispronunciation might offend Putin, Roberts added.

Trump himself seemed thrilled at the prospect of Putin attending, wondering in a tweet, "Will he become my new best friend?"

In fact, Trump would even brag that he already had "a relationship" with Putin, during an interview in Moscow with Roberts. "I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today," Trump said. "He's probably very interested in what ... I am saying today, and I'm sure he's going to be seeing it in some form."

In the end, Putin was unable to attend because of a last-minute visit from the King of the Netherlands. But Putin reportedly later sent Trump a gift — through Agalarov's daughter.

Trump would also stay on good terms with the Agalarov family, appearing in a music video with Emin and sending him a videotaped greeting on his 35th birthday.

Last week, Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer he was told had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. He said the meeting — which was also attended by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort — was arranged by an acquaintance from the pageant later identified as music promoter Rob Goldstone.

In a subsequently released email, Goldstone was quoted telling the president's son that the information had been passed on to Aras Agalarov from Russian prosecutor-general Yuri Chaika.

The revelations have raised new questions about the extent of the president's ties to the Agalarovs and generated more speculation about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

"We would like to know what happened on that trip, whether... he met with any Russians connected to Russia's intelligence service, and also to clear up just when did he meet with Vladimir Putin?" said Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

"By his own words during the campaign he said he had met with Putin, and when confronted, when Russia later became an issue, he backed away from that. So I think getting more clarity on that would be helpful to us," Swalwell said.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So we've been hearing so much about Donald Trump Jr. and how he met with a Russian lawyer he was told had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The president's son said that meeting was set up by an acquaintance he met at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Well, now investigators are looking at the connections the Trumps made at that pageant. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When New York-based publicist Gabriel Rivera-Barraza was asked to judge the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, he jumped at the chance.

GABRIEL RIVERA-BARRAZA: This is Moscow. You know, this is Russia. It's such a unique culture that it's very attractive to me.

ZARROLI: Rivera-Barraza didn't get the sense beauty pageants were popular in Russia. A lot of people he talked to there had never even heard of Miss Universe, but they'd heard of the pageant's owner, Donald Trump.

RIVERA-BARRAZA: Back then, everyone wanted to meet him, of course. It was, like, a big deal. And I'm pretty sure in Russia and - he was already a TV personality. So, you know, he was already famous.

ZARROLI: The pageant was very much Trump's show, full of glitz and glamour and women in high heels and bikinis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MISS UNIVERSE 2013")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the moment when the dream becomes a reality. One of these two women is about to become Miss Universe.

ZARROLI: But Trump wasn't the only real estate tycoon at the pageant. The contest was held at a venue owned by Aras Agalarov. His wife was a judge, and his son, Emin, was a performer. MSNBC host Thomas Roberts emceed the contest.

THOMAS ROBERTS: I mean, you can read between the lines, but it all crystallized as to how much influence they had over this event.

ZARROLI: Roberts agreed to host because as a married, out gay man, his presence would make a statement against the Russian Parliament's anti-gay laws. But Roberts was told not to talk politics on stage because President Vladimir Putin was expected to show up.

ROBERTS: The way that it had been described to us was that there was the likelihood Putin would be attending, and they wanted to make sure that everything was flawless.

ZARROLI: Trump himself was excited about Putin attending. In one tweet, he wondered, will he be my new best friend? In fact, Putin never came, but lots of other people did, as Trump boasted on the Hugh Hewitt radio show in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals and top-of-the-government people. I can't go further than that. But I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.

ZARROLI: Today the pageant figures prominently in the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Congressman Eric Swalwell is a Democrat from California.

ERIC SWALWELL: We would like to know what happened on that trip, whether the president was not a candidate at the time but someone investing in Russia at the time, you know - whether he met with any Russians connected to Russia's intelligence service.

ZARROLI: And the Trump family's ties to the Agalarovs are of special interest. The 2016 meeting between Donald Jr. and a Russian lawyer was arranged by a music promoter with ties to Emin Agalarov. The lawyer supposedly had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The information was allegedly passed on from Russia's top prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, through Emin's father. Stanford University's Kathryn Stoner.

KATHRYN STONER: The fact that the father allegedly had this meeting with Yuri Chaika is pretty significant. And that tells you something about the political connections of this family.

ZARROLI: Aras Agalarov has denied passing on information. But the email released last week indicates that Don Jr. believed he had something important to share and that the ties forged at Miss Universe might pay off for the campaign. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.