Rob Goldstone calls it “the most famous email in history”. True or not, the 137-word message he typed out on his iPhone and sent to Donald Trump Jr turned his life “upside down”.
As a consequence, Mr Goldstone, a former journalist-turned-publicist from a Jewish family in Manchester, has found himself at the centre of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election, when voters brought Donald Trump to the White House.
This week sees the launch of Mr Goldstone’s new book, Pop Stars, Pageants and Presidents: How an Email Trumped My Life. “I wanted to tell my story in my own words,” he says. “I spent a year reading other people’s accounts of who I was, what I was, and how I was involved in Russia-gate. I thought the best way to do it — I’d been a journalist for many years — was to write it myself. And give the story context. The context which I felt had been lacking.”
The email that led to Mr Goldstone’s notoriety was sent to organize a meeting at Trump Tower between three senior members of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and a group of Russians. Mr Goldstone’s client, Azerbaijani-Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, called him on June 3, 2016 and asked him to set up the meeting after his billionaire developer father, Aras, allegedly received information from a Russian attorney concerning incriminating information about the Democrats and Hillary Clinton “and her dealings with Russia”. Mr Agalarov senior has denied any knowledge of a plan to discredit the Democratic Party candidate.
Mr Goldstone sent the email to Mr Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, who replied: “If it’s what you say I love it.” At the meeting, Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya did present material but it was “very generic dirt”, says Mr Goldstone. And yet when news of this meeting leaked, it fuelled suspicions that the Russian government had meddled in the 2016 election.
Three congressional committees, a federal grand jury and a Special Counsel Investigation, led by Robert Mueller, were all established to examine whether federal US election law had been broken.
It left Mr Goldstone, 57, highly exposed. Does he have any regrets? “I regret sending the email,” he admits. “Or sending it perhaps in the way I did. Or sending it at all. I’ve never really thought about it in terms of setting up the meeting. I’ve thought more about ‘I wish I’d fought my client a bit more’ when I told him it was a bad idea and nothing good could come of it… I wish I’d said, ‘And as a result, I’m not doing it.’”
The publicist adds that he was “good friends” with Mr Agalarov — his sole client at the time — and “trusted him”. It never occurred to Mr Goldstone that he might be doing something illegal. “People say to me all the time…how could it not have occurred to you that this was against American law? And the only thing I can say is I grew up in Manchester in England. I didn’t grow up in Idaho. So I don’t know American law. Yes, hindsight is amazing. I didn’t know. That’s the reality of it all.”
Born in Whitefield, Bury, his father was a founding member of the Orthodox Hillock Hebrew Congregation. When he was 16, he began his career as a trainee sports reporter on the Jewish Gazette before graduating to the Birmingham Evening Mail and later the Australian Associated Press, where he became the only reporter to follow singer Michael Jackson on the Australian leg of his 1987 Bad tour.
That same year he set up publicity, marketing and events outfit Oui 2 Entertainment, working for the likes of the New York Friars Club and Steinway & Sons. “You’re always on the other side of the fence,” he says. “You’re seeking publicity for your client. You’re pushing people forward to be famous. But not me! I never pushed myself to be famous.” All of that changed with that infamous email and meeting. “Suddenly you’re in the spotlight. People take your photo, people point.”
It’s had what he calls a “devastating” impact on his life. “I’ve had people come up to me scream and shout abuse because they hate Donald Trump. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me how amazing I am because I love Trump, and I say the same thing to those same people: what has that got to do with me? That really is my answer to it. I don’t need your praise and I don’t need your anger because I’m nothing to do with Donald Trump. I met the man five times.”
Mr Goldstone’s first encounter with Trump was in 2013, when he played a pivotal role in Trump’s visit to Moscow to attend the Miss Universe Pageant. “I thought he was a brash, blustering…a really big, imposing guy,” he admits. “I thought he was a great showman.” That trip later became scandalized after Trump was alleged to have hired prostitutes to urinate in front of him on a hotel bed, previously slept in by former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
While this rumour came to light in 2017, Mr Goldstone remains “sceptical” of the incident. “I was an integral part of organising his travel where he stayed, including choosing the hotel. And I can assure you I didn’t choose it because it was convenient to be peed on!” He also notes that Mr Trump was only absent from Mr Goldstone’s company for about five hours, where he “presumed” he rested. “He didn’t look like a man who hadn’t slept.”
Moreover, in a world where gossip sells for hard cash, “I never heard a word from anybody about this before, during or after when it supposedly took place, and I find that odd….nobody has ever come forward and said, ‘I’m the chambermaid that, at four in the morning, had to change the bed!’ He’s a germophobe! But the reality is, do I know? No! I’m willing to be open to the fact that anything could’ve happened.
But if you’re asking me my opinion, I don’t think it did.”
Mr Goldstone, who says he did not vote for Mr Trump or support him during the election, says he was not shocked when this billionaire entrepreneur and reality television star from TV’s The Apprentice made it to the White House. “I thought America had become or was becoming a kind of reality show nation and who better to be the reality show president of the United States than Donald Trump?”
A US citizen for the past 20 years, who now lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, Mr Goldstone chuckles when asked if he’s taken aback when people question Mr Trump’s behaviour since he’s entered the Oval Office. “Have you ever seen Trump in The Apprentice? What did they think they’d get once he went into the White House? Abraham Lincoln!”
Yet the question still hangs over whether there was any Russian interference in the 2016 US election. “There are people who are on much bigger pay grades than me and who know much more than me who are investigating that, including the Mueller inquiry,” he shrugs. “But even if there’s been any form of collusion… I believe it may have nothing to do with this meeting.”