May 16, 2018, 3:13 PM ET

Russian social media giant offered pro-Trump effort during campaign

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A Russian tech executive began pitching the Trump campaign in early 2016 about using social media to help gain “massive exposure” for his presidential bid, according to Senate interview transcripts released Wednesday.

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In an email to Donald Trump, Jr., that was copied to his father’s personal assistant, Rhona Graff, music publicist Rob Goldstone - who acted as an intermediary - shared the proposal to build candidate Trump a page on Russia’s popular Facebook equivalent VK. The plan was the brainchild of the Russian social media giant’s head of marketing, Konstantin Sidorkov, the Senate documents show, revealing exchanges between the executive and Goldstone with the former detailing to the later exactly what to pitch.

Goldstone described the plan in his email, saying the company “had an idea to create a campaign page on VK for Mr. Trump and market it to the almost 3 million influential Russian American voters living in the USA.”

PHOTO: British publicist Rob Goldstone arrives at a closed door meeting with House Intelligence Committee Dec. 18, 2017 in Washington.Alex Wong/Getty Images
British publicist Rob Goldstone arrives at a closed door meeting with House Intelligence Committee Dec. 18, 2017 in Washington.

“I can get massive exposure for Mr. Trump on the site for sure - and it will be covered in Russian media also - - where I noticed your campaign is covered positively almost daily - [with] extremely gracious comments from President Putin etc.,” he wrote.

Graff then forwarded the message to the campaign’s social media director, Dan Scavino, who replied, “This is great!”

The pitches, which began in January 2016, represent the first known instance of Russian nationals urging Trump to accept their help in promoting his White House bid through a more robust social media campaign – though in this case it is limited to Russian-based platforms.

Scavino told ABC News in an e-mailed statement, “I do not know Rob Goldstone – the ‘pitch’ came to me via an email on January 19, 2016 - that I was cc’d on, and the email chain regarding VK was below that. I kindly acknowledged the email on the same day, and did not pursue further. There are no other responses.”

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (L), Dan Scavino, center, and Michael Glassner, watch as Ted Cruz ends his campaign, ahead of a primary night news conference by Trump, May 3, 2016, in New York City.Mary Altaffer/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (L), Dan Scavino, center, and Michael Glassner, watch as Ted Cruz ends his campaign, ahead of a primary night news conference by Trump, May 3, 2016, in New York City.

Efforts by Russian-based companies to spread pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton messages on American-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become a focus of congressional and Special Counsel investigators. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies in February for an alleged complex online scheme to sow discord in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and help elect Donald Trump, activity covertly set up and organized by a Putin-connected oligarch.

By June 2016, a day before the infamous Trump Tower meeting - which Goldstone also set up - the publicist sent a fresh email pushing the idea of a social media campaign. This time he included a mock-up web page featuring Donald Trump’s picture, his campaign slogan, pictures from the trail, and a previous Trump tweet sure to be popular with the candidate, “The media is really on a witch-hunt against me.”

PHOTO: Dan Scavino Jr., White House director of social media, walks on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, on April 5, 2018.Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dan Scavino Jr., White House director of social media, walks on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, on April 5, 2018.

Sidorkov, through Goldstone, touted the site as the most popular in Russia, a statistic confirmed by Amazon’s Alexa analysis site, and extended this invitation, “Also we can set up the official meeting with our CEO and fly to USA anytime,” he wrote. It is unclear if the meeting ever occurred.

In late June, Goldstone tried again, emailing Scavino that he had mentioned the idea to then-Trump campaign head Paul Manafort, adding, “At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page - which I am re-sending for your approval now. It would merely require Mr. Trump to drop in a short message to Russian American voters - or a generic message depending on your choice - and the page can be up and running very quickly.”

Scavino told ABC News that he never pursued the project.

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  • KEITH Nobody

    “I can get massive exposure for Mr. Trump on the site for sure - and it will be covered in Russian media also - - where I noticed your campaign is covered positively almost daily - [with] extremely gracious comments from President Putin etc.,” he wrote.
    Graff then forwarded the message to the campaign’s social media director, Dan Scavino, who replied, “This is great!”

    Holy cow! Sadly, even this won't be enough to convince his fanatical base that Trump is not a friend of the U.S. They will make excuses as they always do -- and simply look the other way.

    Sickening.

  • kritikosman

    What a group of vile dudes.

  • Jim F

    Most hated president... EVER.

  • Bill B.

    I wasn't a big fan of Clinton, but man I do feel bad for her. This was so unfair.

  • s DAN

    No collusion? Humm……..

  • Educated

    ....You mean the Russians didn't want Hillary to win? I thought she and Obama were weak, and Trump was strong?....Lol

  • p1b

    Scratching my head why the GOP doesn't care that Junior and Kushner were so eager and willing to receive help from the Russians. If it is to be believed, Kushner was actually ANGRY that the Russians that were met didn't have dirt on HRC. This proves that the Trump campaign would conspire with the Russians if the opportunity was made available....hint...Wikileaks

  • thebobbob

    The Kremlin's Man in DC! They've wanted one for years. What better place than in the oval office. Thanks to all the American Trump supporters. So gullible! Like sheep to the slaughter.

  • Sarah Levine

    Shocker the Russians wanted Trump in. Why? they knew he could be bought. Just like the Chinese did with the billion they gave the Trump Indonesia project this week. A few days later Trump rescinds the ZTE phone sanctions. What a coincidence!

    Art of the Deal baby and the USA is being sold!

  • Treblig56

    I'm no Trump fan, and I believe Russia DID interfere in the campaign - if it did change the final result or not will never be known - but in this case, Russia offering help to the Trump campaign adds nothing as proof that the Trump Team colluded with Russia - although I believe they did - just as an email offering me a bribe does not mean I am corrupt, but that someone tried to corrupt me, or make it seem that the sender somehow believes I could be.

  • bustertherocketcat

    Goodness gracious me! What a wild and unlikely coincidence! What are the odds?

  • YouMayBanMeButYouCan'tBanIdeas

    Yet another conclusion that there was indeed Russian meddling, making the election results illegitimate.

  • FedUp

    Just in: Mueller says Trump will NOT be indicted. Says DOJ rule will apply.
    So sorry libs.
    We'll see if FOX got this right. I haven't seen it on ABC yet (they probably don't quite know how to spin it yet)

  • John

    Democrats wonder why Russia hated Hillary so much? Could it be because they knew she was a lying, whining, inept coat tail hanger of her husband? When a woman becomes president I hope it isn't because who she was married to or like W, who his father was.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Putin must have laughed non stop for days after the election thinking about the millions of foolish Americans who were naive enough to fall for all the trickery he paid for. And Putin has never made a better investment. Reneging on the Iran treaty alone is worth billions to Russia is higher oil prices. Without a doubt, Trump is continuing to reap big returns for Putin. It almost makes up for the break up of the USSR.

  • RZC

    Add this , I guess now the card carrying members of the NRA will have to refer to each other as Comrade's instead of ever what they call themselves. Another one of Trumps favorite organizations yep ole Comrade Trump really likes this one
    The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
    Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow—including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin—and might have secretly funded Trump’s campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, The Daily Beast reported last year.

  • F D

    Have the Democrats given any thought to the backlash if Trump is impeached? I have and I'm certain it would be far worse than any policies the Trump administration has or will push forward. Half of the country voted for him and they will ensure that the next candidate they vote for will be much more conservative and much more insane than Trump out of spite for the party who overturned their selection.

  • Prophet With Honor

    The offer was not a violation, accepting it would be, thus the denial.

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    But... but... but... no collusion, right? It doesn't count if you do not have a video of Donald cackling and saying exxxxcellent!

  • F D

    I don't understand how this is some evil collusion effort by the Russians and Trump. If Clinton were to get a similar emails from a French organization soliciting French-American voters, I wouldn't see a problem with it. As an Independent voter, in the past I would have some confidence that the Democratic party could help offset the insane, archaic policies that the right would try to implement. If they continue down this path, they will guarantee another Trump and Republican victory next election cycle.

  • Melvin Polatnick

    Horrid looking Goldstone deserves credit with obtaining success. His appearance was a hurdle he overcame.

  • Rubber Banned

    Remember that now nearing the halfway of his Presidency, the man who has insulted every one of our allies (and most of our countrymen) has yet to say one, single negative thing about our enemy Putin.

  • Dan T

    Based on this story, I still think it confuses people how the internet actually works. There is nothing illegal about another country spreading information about anybody on Facebook. It's a social media site used in over 100 nations with an advertising tool that will let ANYBODY set up an ad about anything, targeting whoever they want. It's not illegal for Russians, or Germans or British or French people to post ads on Facebook targeting 18-65 year old Americans with pro Trump/negative Clinton posts. I could get on there right now and dump $10 million pro/con ads affecting the Mexico general election. That's not illegal.

  • Paul Iannello

    frickin guy looks like jabba the hut...

  • Prophet With Honor

    Enough smoke yet to pull the alarm?

  • Fundamentalist Daleks

    Goldstone is such a disgusting pile of garbage. Figures Trump would have some Russian asset like this around.

  • Red Hawk

    This is proof the Trump Campaign conspired with Russian sources for help with the campaign.