Days after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, a group of four British political figures met with him in Trump Tower in New York. They posted photos of themselves there beaming before a big golden door and, when they returned to Britain, one of them couldn’t help bragging to the BBC about the meeting in which they had discussed Trump’s dislike for windmills that could ruin the views from one of his Scottish golf courses.
Arron Banks, who donated an amount equivalent to more than $10 million to the Brexit cause, and his spokesman Andy Wigmore were among the first people to meet Trump after his election in November 2016 alongside Breitbart UK editor Raheem Kassam and Nigel Farage, the former chairman of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
“He doesn’t like wind farms at all,” Wigmore told the BBC weeks after the meeting. “He says, ‘When I look out of my window and I see these wind mills it offends me.'” Wigmore added that the President-elect had asked him and his British counterparts at the meeting to campaign “about getting rid of wind farms in the way they currently stand.” He told a British newspaperthat Trump “kept returning” to the “issue of wind farms.”
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The revelations led to further scrutiny of the President-elect’s potential business conflicts, and according to the emails, stoked Trump’s anger.
Wigmore’s comments, delivered with a smile, touched off a distressed email exchange, according to emails viewed by CNN. Some of Wigmore’s and Banks’ emails have recently been provided to congressional and parliamentary investigators looking into Russian interference in the United Kingdom and the US. CNN reported last month that Wigmore and Banks were also in regular contact with the Russian ambassador in London at the time.
In the emails, Kassam urged Wigmore to walk back his comments.
“WHY DID YOU GIVE THOSE QUOTES. This was a PRIVATE MEETING AND YOU HAVE F***** ALL OF US NOW,” Kassam emailed Wigmore.
Appearing to suggest over email they obfuscate the truth, Kassam wrote that Wigmore should issue a “full retraction immediately,” and claim the conversation with Trump about the windmills “never happened.”
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Kassam added, “We are going to have to distance ourselves from this. That conversation never took place and I’m afraid you have misremembered as a result of your overexcitement.”
A few weeks after their post-election Trump Tower meeting, Trump met with Farage at a party, according to an email sent by Banks to Wigmore and a colleague.
Banks wrote of Trump, “Apparently he’s still annoyed about the wind farm story (naughty boy andy) but I guess there’s not much we can do about that.”
For years before his election, Trump had publicly opposed the proposed Scottish wind farm that could be seen from a golf course he owns on Scotland’s east coast, even writing to a top Scottish official about the issue. Trump’s comments to the group, Wigmore suggested, were in part about that wind farm. Trump is expected to visit Turnberry, another golf course he owns on Scotland’s west coast, this week while he is in Europe for meetings with NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wind farms blowback
Wigmore’s November 2016 account of Trump’s disdain for wind farms, particularly those near his Scottish golf course, prompted a flurry of news reporting in the United States and drew further scrutiny about the President-elect’s potential conflicts of interest arising from his businesses.
When The New York Times asked Trump transition team spokeswoman Hope Hicks about the conversation in 2016, she said that the people involved denied that Trump had brought up the subject of wind farms.
But when the Times pointed out to Hicks Wigmore’s comments, she stopped responding.
At a later point in November 2016, Trump told the Times he “might have” brought up the topic of wind farms during the meeting.
The White House did not return CNN’s requests for comment about the newly revealed emails.
One of the emails from Kassam to Wigmore read, “You have to retract this in its entirety. What you have done is just activated the entire environmentalist lobby against the President‐elect. Your name is mud in the transition team right now and you need to issue a full retraction immediately. That you made that information up because you wanted to fill space in an interview and that you’re very sorry about it and that it never happened.”
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Kassam told CNN, “The reason I got so mad at Andy (Wigmore) was because I think the President-elect literally mentioned wind farms once for a second, there was no sort of policy discussion about wind farms or anything like that.”
Kassam said he wasn’t asking Wigmore to lie about the meeting when he asked him to retract his comments, but did want his colleague to walk-back the suggestion that there was a detailed conversation about wind farms
“Andy isn’t exactly Mr. Attention-to-detail,” Kassam added.
Speaking to CNN, Wigmore acknowledged he was taken aback by Trump’s reaction to his comments but said he didn’t regret the indiscretion.
“Donald Trump is a man who speaks his mind,” Wigmore said. “No one expected him to win in 2016 just as no one expected people to vote for Brexit. But they did.”
Wigmore, Farage and Banks all played leading roles in Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, and later went on to campaign for Trump, attending numerous rallies and debates across the United States in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election.
A Russia revelation
The emails obtained by CNN, of which the details of some were first reported by The Observer and The Sunday Times newspapers in London, show that a few days after the men’s post-election meeting at Trump Tower, Wigmore and Banks met the Russian ambassador in London.
CNN reported in June that, at the time of the 2016 meeting, Wigmore and Banks, were in regular contact with Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador in London, as part of what became a pattern of regular contact with the embassy.
There is no evidence that the Trump campaign knew about the men’s ties to the Russian government.
Kassam told CNN he didn’t know two of the other men were meeting with Russian government officials at the time.
Wigmore and Banks’ contact with the Russian ambassador in London while campaigning for Brexit, and later the Trump campaign, has been a source of intrigue in the United Kingdom.
The men appeared before a British parliamentary committee last month where they downplayed their connections to the Russian government.
In a radio interview last month, when it was suggested to Banks that people would ask if the men were “reporting back” to the Russians, he responded, “Well, not really.”
Wigmore said the only thing they provided the ambassador with was a phone number for the Trump transition team after the ambassador asked if they knew how to get in contact with Trump.
Wigmore claimed the ambassador said he didn’t know how to contact the incoming administration.
Kassam said that although he was unaware that Banks and Wigmore had connections with the Russian ambassador in London, it didn’t surprise him, as he described both men as socialites “running around Mayfair,” an affluent neighborhood in central London, who’d take a meeting with anyone.