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.
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