Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators Thursday that nothing came of the 2016 meeting he set up with a Russian lawyer who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
“The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented,” Trump Jr. said, according to a copy of his prepared testimony.
Trump made the comments while being interviewed behind closed doors Thursday by members and staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He told the panel that he would have consulted with lawyers if any useful information had been provided about Clinton by the visiting Russian.
The testimony, first reported by The New York Times, offered some new insights into the June 2016 meetings with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Moscow lawyer, who has some ties to the Kremlin.
Trump Jr. told congressional investigators he was skeptical of the meeting before attending but “to the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of the presidential candidate I believed I should at least hear them out.”
The June 9, 2016, meeting came to light earlier this year when lawyers for adviser Jared Kushner went through documents prepared for congressional investigators and discovered the previously undisclosed meeting with the Russians. The embarrassment was compounded by one email in which Trump responded to the prospect of negative information from Russia on Clinton with the words: “I love it.”
The meeting was attended by Kushner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Rob Goldstone, a music promoter. He represented a Trump business associate, Russian pop music star Emin Agalarov, the son of a prominent Russian real estate developer whose family had negotiated with Trump to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.
In his statement Thursday, Trump Jr. acknowledged for the first time that phone records show three short phone calls he had with Agalarov before the June 9 meeting, which he said he did not recall. Observers had long questioned whether the two spoke by phone because the candidate’s son had discussed setting up a phone call with the Russian pop star in the emails with Goldstone. “Let me track him down in Moscow,” Goldstone wrote on June 6, 2016, three days before the meeting. “What number could he call?”
But when Trump Jr. was asked in an interview by Fox News host Sean Hannity in July whether he was told by phone what kind of damaging information he would receive about Clinton, he replied: “No. As I recall, it was all basically this email coordination. Let’s try to set up a meeting and see what happens, and that it was going to be interesting information.”
A lawyer for the Agalarovs has denied that developer Aras Agalarov ever claimed to have damaging information about Clinton, as Goldstone had written to Trump Jr. It is unclear what Emin Agalarov told Trump Jr. directly about the purpose for the meeting when they spoke. In his statement, Trump Jr. told Congress that it is “possible that we left each other voice messages. I simply do not remember.”
Trump Jr. also said in his prepared testimony that he had no recollection of any documents left behind by the Russian visitors. One of the participants in the meeting had said that a document was left behind by the Russians.
Trump’s testimony emphasized again the innocence of the meeting, set up on a chaotic day in the heat of the campaign.
“I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did,” he said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to help resolve any lingering concern s that may exist.”
Some senators attended the closed door session Thursday but they asked no questions – those were left to the staff alone. Instead, senators are expecting to question Trump Jr. themselves at a second, public hearing – though no such hearing has been scheduled
“He’s supposed to come back for a hearing. He will testify, under oath at a public hearing – that is my expectation,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., exiting the meeting to attend a vote. He told reporters he expected the interview with Trump, Jr. would continue into the afternoon.
Blumenthal is one of the senators who is also angling for the committee to release a public transcript of Trump Jr.’s Thursday interview – but no decision has been made about whether one will be created. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told a town hall audience during August that he would consider releasing a transcript of the last marathon interview the Judiciary Committee conducted in this probe, with Fusion GPS chief executive Glenn Simpson.
After three hours, Blumenthal described the atmosphere of the meeting as “cordial,” and said committee staffers “covered a good deal of ground” with Trump Jr.
“There certainly are a lot of areas that have been opened for future witnesses and questioning, and a lot of areas of interest to be pursued,” Blumenthal said.
Committee members Sens. Christopher Coons, D-Del., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., were also seen entering or exiting the meeting.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Tom Hamburger, Jonathan O’Connell