It really is extraordinary that the son and namesake of the president was questioned under oath today about a meeting he had with Russians who have ties to Vladimir Putin about getting opposition research on Hillary Clinton—but that’s what just happened. For three hours, staff from the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Donald Trump Jr.:
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.”
And yet we were initially told that the meeting was all about Americans being able to adopt Russian children. So far, there’s no word on how he explained that lie. Instead, we learned that Trump Jr. explained that “the meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented.”
He also reportedly testified that he has no recollection of the Russians leaving him any documents or files and that he can’t remember three brief phone calls he had with Russian pop music star Emin Agalarov that preceded the meeting.
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 [Rob] 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.”
Expressing a failure to remember things is a good way to avoid perjuring yourself, but Trump Jr. will still have to contend with the fact that investigators will be able to get several separate firsthand accounts of this meeting.
“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 E. 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.
Three hours is a long time and I imagine that Trump Jr. made a lot of assertions that can be crosschecked. It would be nice if the public could see the transcript so the investigation could be a bit open source, but that might take quite a bit of pressure to accomplish. I don’t know if Sen. Grassley will clue us in to when he might make Trump Jr. testify in an open session of his committee. I suppose it might be good to get all the participants on the record first so that they have a harder time coordinating their stories. They also don’t want to do anything to undermine Bob Mueller’s ability to potentially prosecute the witnesses.
It’s hard to believe this is the world we’re living in.