MOSCOW (AP) — They may have been the hidden link between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia's government: A Moscow-based billionaire and his pop star son who, like Trump, bridge the worlds of real estate, the entertainment industry and the highest level of politics.
Emails posted Tuesday on Twitter by Trump's eldest son show him willing to take what's described as Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton that would help his father's candidacy. Six days after the first message, Donald Trump Jr. joined his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort for a meeting with a Russian lawyer to follow up on the "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," as one email describes the bounty.
How did Russia's government reach out to the Trump campaign and set such a process in motion? The email exchange points to the unlikely middlemen of Aras and Emin Agalarov, a 61-year-old real estate magnate sometimes dubbed the "Donald Trump of Russia" and his 37-year-old singer/songwriter son who goes only by "Emin" onstage.
Both spent significant time with Trump when he brought the Miss Universe contest to Moscow four years ago, as attested to by party photos and Instagram posts. The father hosted the event at his Crocus City Mall, which he said cost him $20 million. The son performed at the ceremony. Both attended Trump's Miss Universe party. Trump appeared in a music video with Emin while in town.
"I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!" Trump, back in the U.S., tweeted to Aras on Nov. 11, 2013.
"Your performance at Miss Universe was fantastic - you are a STAR!" he followed up in a tweet to the son a day later.
Emin, who partners in his father's real estate business, responded: "Thank you so much for all your support! You are a great Man."
"TRUMP tower Moscow - lets make it happen!" he added.
A person with knowledge of the 2013 trip to Moscow said Emin Agalarov offered to send prostitutes to Trump's hotel room, but the repeated offers were rejected by Keith Schiller, Trump's longtime bodyguard. The person with knowledge of the trip insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by Trump to publicly discuss the matter.
Proximity to power was nothing new for the Agalarovs, each born in the Caucasus nation of Azerbaijan, south of Russia's border.
Aras has won several contracts from the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Trump was in Moscow, Aras tried to get him an audience with Putin. The Russian leader canceled the session, the Washington Post has reported, instead sending Trump a friendly letter and a lacquered box in appreciation. As the tweets suggested, Aras also sought unsuccessfully to build a hotel with Trump in Moscow.
Meanwhile, the younger Agalarov was married for several years to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's oldest daughter, with whom he has twin sons.
But neither has been caught up in a controversy of such magnitude before.
Tuesday's emails represent the most serious suggestion of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and what U.S. intelligence agencies describe as a Russian effort to subvert America's democratic process and help the billionaire Republican win the election.
They start July 3, 2016, with a message from Rob Goldstone, a British-born entertainment publicist who also met Trump in Russia in 2013.
"Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting," Goldstone wrote Trump Jr. "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."
Russia doesn't have a "crown prosecutor." It appears a reference to Yury Chaika, Russia's prosecutor general.
Chaika and the Agalarovs have a history, too.
After Chaika and his family were accused of corruption in a Russian documentary, Aras Agalarov sprang to the prosecutor's defense. He took out an ad in a Russian newspaper lashing out at the anti-corruption campaigner behind the investigation, Alexei Navalny, who is also one of Putin's chief political opponents.
In the emails, Goldstone says the "sensitive information" is "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin." He suggests Trump Jr. speak to the younger Agalarov directly.
Seventeen minutes later, Trump Jr. responds, proposing to speak with Emin by telephone.
"If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. said, seeming to reference a point in the race after Trump and Clinton would have accepted their party's nominations and be competing head-to-head for the White House.
The phone conversation is eventually set for July 6. Goldstone says they must first wait for Emin to get off stage.
A day later, Goldstone says Emin wants Trump Jr. to meet "The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this."
Trump Jr. thanks Goldstone for setting up the meeting. In a follow-up email, he says Kushner and Manafort would also attend.
Klapper reported from Washington. AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace contributed to this report.