The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released the transcripts of interviews with key Trump world figures during the Russia probe – after a long and angry battle with the administration over classification.
The documents contain the results of 57 interviews by committee members, mostly in a secure facility in Congress.
Figures who had critical information in the probe, begun when Republicans ran the committee, sat for the depositions. Among them were now White House aide Hope Hicks, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, British PR Rob Goldstone, longtime Trump assistant Rhona Graff, and Donald Trump Jr.
The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released the transcripts of interviews with key Trump world figures during the Russia probe, with chair Rep. Adam Schiff complaining about a declassification delay
The House panel voted in 2018 to release the documents, but it wasn’t until this week that acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell told the committee they were ready for release following a lengthy interagency classification review.
During the intervening period, the impeachment of President Trump and his trial has come in gone, the Mueller report has been released, and Trump has waged a long campaign against FBI agents and other key figures in investigations.
Panel chair Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is a regular target of Trump’s, complained in a release about the delay in the review, as his panel put out the information for all to see.
‘These transcripts should have been released long before now, but the White House held up their release to the public by refusing to allow the Intelligence Community to make redactions on the basis of classified information, rather than White House political interests,” Schiff vented.
US President Donald Trump listens to Director of Oval Office Operations Keith Schiller as he prepares to leave after welcoming the Clemson Tigers, the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions, at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 12, 2017. Schiller revealed provided security services for Melania Trump when she took vacations apart from her husband
Counselor to the President Hope Hicks follows White House senior adviser Jared Kushner after they arrived with U.S. President Donald Trump at Sky International Airport to tour a nearby Honeywell mask production facility manufacturing protective masks for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., May 5, 2020. She spoke to the House committee
Former White House senior counselor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon was another witness
British PR Rob Goldstone got quizzed about his efforts to set up a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower
Donald Trump Jr. appeared before the committee
“Only now, and during a deadly pandemic, has the President released his hold on this damning information and evidence,’ he said.
‘Ultimately, this pattern of misconduct and deceit continued when President Trump once again sought to coerce a foreign government into providing him illicit assistance with his reelection campaign, this time from Ukraine. For his efforts, President Trump was impeached in the House and became the first ever U.S. President to to receive bipartisan votes to convict in the Senate,’ Schiff wrote.
The committee vote to release came in September 2018.
Among the material in the documents:
– Trump’s security head Keith Schiller revealed provided security services for Melania Trump when she took vacations. Asked by Rep. Jackie Speier if the future first lady took vacations separate from her husband, Schiller replied: ‘Yes m’am.’
– Longtime assistant Rhona Graff got quizzed on an invitation, conveyed by Emin Agalarov, for a Moscow visit that dangled a meeting with Vladimir Putin. It was conveyed by British PR Rob Goldstone, though after Trump turned down a birthday visit for his father, a wealthy Moscow developer. ‘”I totally understand re Moscow — unless maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin which Emin would set up,” he wrote.
– Schiff quizzed Don Jr. on his receipt of an email from Goldstone before the Trump Tower meeting. ‘Was this the first communication you received from Mr. Goldstone where he indicated that the Russian Government wanted to provide assistance to the campaign?’
‘Yes,’ he responded. Asked if he ever discussed with his father an email offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, Don Jr. responded: ‘No, not that I recall.’
– Former Obama UN ambassador Susan Rice denied unmasking the name of Gen. Mike Flynn or leaking information about him to the media. The Justice Department on Thursday said it wanted to drop charges against the former Trump national security advisor. Power said she had ‘no recollection’ of making a request regarding Flynn. ‘I haver never leaked names,’ she told Schiff.
The Schiller transcript provides new detail on an element of the Steele dossier that he shot down involving unverified allegations about Trump’s conduct in a Moscow hotel room in connection with the Miss Universe pageant Trump owned.
Schiller recalled that a man mentioned sending prostitutes to Trump’s room but that Trump didn’t do that kind of thing and that Schiller shut down the idea.
‘Something about sending five ladies or five women to our room,’ Schiller testified. Schiller says he took it as a joke and told Trump about the offer ‘Because I thought it was something that he would find humor in.’
He says he told the man, who he couldn’t recall, that it wasn’t happening.
‘I just told him, that’s not happening, I shut it down immediately, and I walked away,’ Schiller said. He said he walked away from Trump’s door when Trump went to bed, and that he didn’t post anyone else outside the door.
He told Rep. Trey Gowdy the topic never came up with Trump again – though he did mention it to White House counsel Don McGahn and former chief of staff Reince Priebus amidst the Russia probe. He was vague when questioned about how it came up.
‘Because the conversation with the Russian probe and this alleged dossier came up. And that’s when I volunteered that I knew that didn’t happen,’ he said.
Earlier in his deposition, Schiller described the conversation. ‘I believe he was joking, because I immediately told him, absolutely not, we don’t do that,’ he testified. The conversation took place in a hotel. The Agalarovs were present, he said.
‘He was not with us. I can’t say if he was Russian,’ Schiller, whom Trump brought to the White House at the start of his term, recalled.
Schiller said he told Trump about the offer ‘I believe it was on the way back, in the evening sometime on the way to the room, walking him to his room.’
Asked by Rep. Schiff about Trump’s reaction, Schiller replied: ‘He laughed. We both laughed. It was — I told him it was immediately something that we would never do, and I just told him I shut it down immediately.’
‘It was just something — it was an offer that something that I know he — we just would never do. So serious or not, I made sure he understood very clearly that it was not happening. And that was the end of it.’