The UBS banker in the Mueller Report: Robert Foresman
A UBS investment banker passed a message from a Russian government official to close associates of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and had contacts with other Russians during the transition, according to the new report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The long-awaited report describes three separate occasions in which Robert Foresman, vice chairman of the Swiss company’s investment bank, had Trump-related contacts with Russians.
A UBS spokeswoman declined to comment. Foresman, who was formerly the head of Russian operations at Barclays, could not be reached for comment. He reportedly spent much of his career living in Russia and Ukraine, but was hired by UBS to work from New York.
Foresman was interviewed by Mueller’s team in October 2018, according to the special counsel’s report.
During that interview, Foresman said that he had been asked by Anton Kobyakov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to see if Trump would speak at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. Kobyakov was also involved with the foundation that organized the St. Petersburg event, according to the special counsel’s report.
On March 31, 2016, Foresman emailed Trump executive assistant Rhona Graff. At the time, Trump had yet to secure the Republican nomination, and Foresman had not yet joined UBS. He started at the bank in October 2016.
“In his email, Foresman referenced his long-standing personal and professional expertise in Russia and Ukraine, his work setting up an early ‘private channel’ between Vladimir Putin and former U.S. President George W. Bush, and an ‘approach’ he had received from ‘senior Kremlin officials’ about the candidate,” the report states.
The report does not clarify whether such a private communication channel between Putin and Bush ever existed, or whether Foresman had a hand in its creation.
“Foresman asked Graff for a meeting with the candidate, Corey Lewandowski, or ‘another relevant person’ to discuss this and other ‘concrete things’ Foresman felt uncomfortable discussing over 'unsecure email,' " the report continues.
Lewandowski was Trump’s campaign manager at the time the email was sent.
Later, after Graff failed to respond to the email, Foresman sent her another message in which he suggested an alternative meeting with Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump. Graff forwarded that email to Trump campaign policy adviser Stephen Miller.
The special counsel's office did not obtain evidence that any such meeting ever happened.
“When interviewed by the Office, Foresman denied that the specific ‘approach’ from ‘senior Kremlin officials’ noted in his March 31, 2016 email was anything other than Kobyakov’s invitation,” the report states.
“According to Foresman, the ‘concrete things’ he referenced in the same email were a combination of the invitation itself, Foresman’s personal perspectives on the invitation and Russia policy in general, and details of a Ukraine plan supported by a U.S. think tank,” the report stated.
“Foresman claimed to have no plans to establish a back channel involving Trump, stating the reference to his involvement in the Bush-Putin back channel was meant to burnish his credentials to the Campaign.”
“Foresman commented that he had not recognized any of the experts announced as Trump’s foreign policy team in March 2016, and wanted to secure an in-person meeting with the candidate to share his professional background and policy views, including that Trump should decline Kobyakov’s invitation to speak at the Forum.”
The Mueller investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference, though it did determine that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.
The report released Thursday describes a meeting that Foresman had in early December 2016 with incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, apparently in the context of efforts by Foresman to get a job in the incoming Trump administration. During the meeting, the two men discussed potential contacts within the Russian government.
Specifically, they discussed Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, the report states, citing Foresman’s interview with the special counsel’s office.
“Foresman had not met Kislyak but told Flynn that, while Kislyak was an important person, Kislyak did not have a direct line to Putin. Foresman subsequently traveled to Moscow, inquired of a source he believed to be close to Putin, and heard back from that source that Ushakov would be the official channel for the incoming U.S. national security advisor.”
“Foresman acknowledged that Flynn had not asked him to undertake that inquiry in Russia but told the Office that he nonetheless felt obligated to report the information back to Flynn,” the report states.
Investigators in the special counsel’s office were unable to establish whether Foresman subsequently met with Flynn. The report states that while email correspondence suggests the meeting went forward, Flynn did not recall participating. The investigation also did not identify evidence that Flynn ever met with Ushakov.
Lastly, the Mueller report describes a meeting that Foresman had in Moscow — apparently in early December 2016 — with two officials from the Russian state-owned bank Vnescheconombank.
The head of the Russian bank, Sergey Gorkov, and its deputy chairman, Nikolay Teskhomsky, met with Foresman shortly before Gorkov traveled to New York to meet Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to the report. The bank was and remains under Department of Treasury sanctions.
“According to Foresman, Gorkov and Tsekhomsky told him that they were traveling to New York to discuss post-election issues with U.S. financial institutions, that their trip was sanctioned by Putin, and that they would be reporting back to Putin upon their return,” the report states.
Kushner met with Gorkov in Manhattan on Dec. 13, 2016, according to the special counsel’s report. The president’s son-in-law later told Mueller’s office that he did not recall any discussion during the meeting of sanctions against the Russian bank.
“Kushner stated in an interview that he did not engage in any preparation for the meeting and that no one on the Transition Team even did a Google search for Gorkov’s name,” the report states.