Trump Jr: Can’t recall discussing Russia probe with father
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year he couldn’t remember whether he had discussed the Russia investigation with his father and said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to transcripts released Wednesday of his interview with the panel.
The committee released more than 1,800 pages of transcripts of interviews with Trump’s son and others who attended a June 9, 2016, meeting at which they expected to receive dirt about Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. deflected multiple questions during the interview, saying he couldn’t recall whether he discussed the Russia probe with his father and whether he spoke with his dad on the day the meeting was arranged.
Asked if he thought it would be a problem to take a meeting billed to him as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father, Trump Jr. said no.
“I didn’t think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no.”
The meeting is under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and at least one of the participants has provided testimony to a grand jury in Washington.
In addition to Trump Jr., the committee interviewed four other people who attended the Trump Tower meeting in New York – publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting with the promise of dirt on Clinton; Rinat Akhmetshin, a prominent Russian-American lobbyist; Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer, and a translator.
The committee did not interview Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the center of the meeting. But the panel released her written responses to a letter that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent her last year.
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 committee also released one page of notes that Manafort took during the meeting.
His notes mention “Russian adoption by American families” and Bill Browder, a British citizen who has spearheaded a U.S. sanctions law — known as the Magnitsky Act — that targets Russian officials over human rights abuses. The relatively cryptic notes also contain a reference to “active sponsors of RNC,” “tied into Cheney” and appear to make reference to offshore companies in Cyprus.
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 meeting, and the administration’s initial response to reports of it, have 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.
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.”
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.
Music publicist Rob 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.”