President Donald Trump’s oldest son told a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday that he attended a meeting last year that included a Russian lawyer because he hoped it would yield information about Democrat Hillary Clinton’s ‘fitness, character or qualifications’ to be president.
Trump Jr. made his first appearance on Capitol Hill as part of a Senate investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Senate Judiciary Committee staff heard Trump Jr. read a prepared statement, which described a June 2016 meeting he attended at Trump Tower which included publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian-Azerbaijani singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the future president’s son-in-law.
In an email, Trump recalled, Goldstone ‘suggested that someone had ‘official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia’ and that the information would be ‘very useful’ to the campaign.’
‘I was somewhat skeptical of his outreach,’ he said Thursday, since he knew Goldstone only as a pop music promoter.
‘As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented.’
SCROLL DOWN TO READ TRUMP JR.’S FULL STATEMENT
In this April 17, 2017 file photo, Donald Trump Jr., the son of President Donald Trump, speaks to media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. President Trump’s oldest son is expected to meet privately Thursday with a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley has said he wants both Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. to testify publicly at some point
Special counsel Robert Mueller has spoken with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about their probe into Russian meddling in the election and possible connection to the Trump campaign
Instead, Trump said, the meeting quickly detoured into a discussion of the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law targeting Russian officials thought to be behind the 2009 death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison. In retaliation for the law, Vladimir Putin’s regime discontinued a program that had allowed Americans to adopt Russian children.
Trump maintained on Thursday that the June 2016 meeting quickly disintegrated after ‘Ms. Veselnitskaya pivoted and began talking about the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens.’
That parallels his first statements on the matter, which he made publicly two months ago.
‘It was clear to me that her real purpose in asking for the meeting all along was to discuss Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act,’ he said Thursday of Veselnitskaya.
‘At this point, Jared excused himself from the meeting to take a phone call. I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point to having this discussion. She thanked us for our time and everyone left the conference room.’
‘As we walked out, I recall Rob coming over to me to apologize,’ Trump Jr. said.
Trump Jr. released a series of emails in July that detailed preparations for the June 2016 meeting. The emails show he took the meeting expecting that he would be receiving damaging information about Clinton.
They also establish that his initial response to Goldstone’s idea of an opposition research dump about his father’s Democratic opponent was: ‘I love it.’
‘As much as some have made of my using the phrase “I love it”,’ Trump Jr. said Thursday, ‘it was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture.’
Despite the chaos of a whirlwind political campaign, he said, ‘I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say.’
‘To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out. Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.’
‘I also note,’ he added, ‘that at this time there was not the focus on Russian activities that there is today.’
Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are also investigating the meeting. A grand jury has heard testimony about it.
Senate staffers could also probe any other possible connections Trump’s family had with Russia. Trump Jr. agreed to the interview in July after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, subpoenaed him and Manafort.
The committee withdrew the subpoenas after the two agreed to be interviewed privately by staff; Grassley has said they both will eventually be questioned by senators in a public hearing.
Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut attended the interview but, according to tradition, only professional staffers asked questions.
Donald Trump Jr. is one Trump family member who has been dragged into the larger investigation due to a meeting he attended which also involved a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, said she and Grassley have agreed that they will subpoena Trump Jr. and Manafort again if they don’t agree to attend a public hearing. None has been scheduled at this point.
Trump Jr. is also expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, said Wednesday that the panel wants to speak with others who attended the June 2016 meeting before they interview Trump Jr.
‘We want to do this in a thorough way that gets the most information possible,’ Warner said.
Manafort met privately with staff on the Senate intelligence panel in July, and Kushner met with Senate intelligence staff and members of the House Intelligence Committee.
The House intelligence panel has also sought to talk to Trump Jr., but Rep. Eric Swallwell, a Democrat on that committee, said Wednesday that the panel is still negotiating the interview and a date hasn’t yet been set.