Trump Jr. sheds little light in Senate interview on meeting with Russians for Clinton dirt
President's son testified he did not know whether his father helped draft statement about meeting
Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate judiciary committee that he couldn't remember whether he had discussed the Russia investigation with his father, according to transcripts released Wednesday of his interview with the panel.
That's according to transcripts of his interview with the panel last year. The committee on Wednesday released more than 1,800 pages of transcripts of interviews with Trump's son and others who met with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
Trump Jr. deflected multiple questions during the interview, including whether he discussed the Russia probe with his father.
- READ: Trump Jr. interview with the Senate committee (external link)
- Trump Jr.-Goldman email exchange ahead of meeting
According to the transcripts, Trump Jr. also said he didn't think there was anything wrong with attending the Trump Tower meeting in which he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
"To the extent that they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of any presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out," Trump said in his opening statement to the committee, referring to an email he received from publicist Rob Goldstone on June 3.
In a statement Wednesday, Trump Jr. thanked the members of the committee for their courtesy.
"The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the committee," he said.
The White House and Donald Trump Jr. misled the public about the June 9 meeting with Russians and other contacts with Russia. The extent of the president’s involvement in drafting Trump Jr.’s statement remains unknown despite initial claims that the president wasn’t involved. <a href="https://t.co/f0c0aB8Zmh">pic.twitter.com/f0c0aB8Zmh</a>—@SenFeinstein
That contention was countered by a statement released by ranking Democratic committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein and several of her colleagues, which concluded that "much of the truth remains hidden" by members of the Trump circle.
"Their efforts to conceal the meeting and its true purpose are consistent with a larger pattern of false statements about the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia," the statement read.
Transcripts from Goldstone's interview with the committee were also among the exhibits released on Wednesday, as were interviews with others in attendance at the Trump Tower meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a prominent Russian-American lobbyist; Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer.
The meeting is under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
The emails and meeting came to widespread public attention in July 2017, with Trump Jr. giving shifting recollections in the days that followed.
The committee did not interview Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the centre of the meeting. But the panel released her written responses to a letter sent to her last year by the Senate's judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican from Iowa.
The panel was also not able to interview Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, or Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, even though both attended the Trump Tower meeting. But the committee released a short page of notes Manafort took on his phone during the meeting.
Adoption program claims
Mueller has brought several unrelated charges against Manafort, including money-laundering conspiracy, false statements and acting as an unregistered foreign agent related to Ukrainian political work.
The special counsel is investigating the Russian meddling, whether Trump's campaign was involved and possible obstruction of justice. The Trump Tower meeting, and the administration's initial response to reports of it, has been one focus of the probe.
The White House has said the president was involved in drafting an initial statement after news of the meeting broke last year. The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though Trump Jr. later released the emails showing he agreed to the sit-down after he was promised information on Clinton.
The emails also show he accepted the meeting despite it being described as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign.
Trump Jr. said he didn't tell his father about the email due his skepticism about the potential value of the meeting. Asked in the interview if his father was involved in drafting the statement, Trump said: "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it."
Trump Jr. said he wasn't aware of what his father was referring to when on June 7 the candidate promised supporters that at an upcoming campaign appearance "we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken with the Clintons."
The transcripts provide a timeline of the days leading up to the meeting as well as personal misgivings about the appropriateness of a Russian lawyer meeting with a U.S. presidential campaign.
Magnitsky sanctions arose, attendee says
Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the request of pop singer Emin Agalarov, said he thought the meeting was a "bad idea."
"I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn't do it. And I gave the reason for that being that I'm a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about," Goldstone said, adding that neither did Emin Agalarov nor his father, Aras.
The Agalarovs had bonded with the Trumps during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Like Trump Jr. and Kushner, who released a public statement about the meeting last year, Goldstone said the meeting was disappointing. He said he reported back to Emin Agalarov that "this was the most embarrassing thing you've ever asked me to do. I've just sat in a meeting about adoption."
The committee also focused on a phone call to a blocked number on the morning of June 6, shortly after Trump Jr. said he spoke to Ermin Agalarov.
Trump Jr. said he didn't know who the call was to, nor did he know whether his father used a blocked number on a cellphone.
Kaveladze, according to the transcript, told the committee the sit-down was dominated by talk of the Magnitsky Act, the U.S. legislation that targets Russians for corruption and contravening banking laws.
Kaveladze said Trump Jr. shut down the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower by telling his Russian guests perhaps they'd revisit the discussion about lifting sanctions legislation should his father win the election.
The transcripts also included interviews with Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS, which researched Trump's ties to Russia and produced a dossier denounced by the White House.
Simpson said he had dinner with Veselnitskaya on June 8 and June 10, 2016, with Akhmetshin also along on the latter date.
Simpson said he did not hear about the Trump Tower meeting until over a year later, when the New York Times and other outlets published details.
Asked if he thought the meeting was an attempt by Vladimir Putin's administration to make contact with the Trump team, Simpson responded it was a "reasonable interpretation" but that he didn't have information to conclusively say so.
With files from CBC News and Reuters