Trump Jr. couldn't remember if he discussed Russia investigation with Trump
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has released congressional testimony transcripts and other material related to the committee's inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.
President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya were among those attending the meeting that raised questions about the role Russian interference played in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump Jr. told told Senate investigators in September 2017 that he had agreed to a meeting with Veselnitskaya who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton because he wanted to determine her "fitness" for office.
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.
A spokesperson for Trump Jr. gave this statement late Wednesday, in response to the new records: "As the Senate Judiciary Democrats' May 16, 2018 findings demonstrate, while the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting was initially intended to provide opposition research concerning then Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, the meeting turned out to primarily be about the Magnitsky Act and certain laws concerning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. This account is supported by five of the attendees who testified live before the committee -- Donald Trump Jr., Rob Goldstone, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov -- and two more of the attendees, Natalia Veselnitskaya and Jared Kushner, who submitted written accounts of the meeting to the Committee -- all of whom the Democrats now say "testified to a relatively consistent narrative."
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.
In total, the transcripts and related documents are approximately 2,500 pages. CBS News will be posting the highlights from the material, which was released just after 9 a.m. ET.
Donald Trump, Jr.
Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he couldn't remember whether he had discussed the Russia investigation with his father, according to transcripts released Wednesday of his interview with the panel.
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."
Trump Jr. also said he did not take any steps to learn or research who he was meeting with in Trump Tower. Trump Jr. said, "I didn't know who they were before they got in there, and once they left it was apparent to me there was nothing worth following up on. So I didn't."
The president's eldest son told investigators however that he didn't think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in hopes of election-season dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. was asked if he was troubled by the idea that the meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his father in the presidential race. He said he didn't give it much thought.
Trump Jr. also acknowledged to investigators that his father may have been involved in drafting a press statement that attempted to explain the 2016 meeting. At first, Trump Jr. told the panel he didn't know if his father was involved in drafting the statement. But he later acknowledged that the president may have edited it through his close aide Hope Hicks. The Washington Post first reported that Mr. Trump dictated the statement to be released by his son. Mr. Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow denied those reports at the time, but White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later told reporters that the president had "weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information he had." She also said that the president "certainly didn't dictate," but "offered suggestion, like any father would do."
After publicist Rob Goldstone promised Trump Jr. "very interesting" information, including documents "that would incriminate Hillary," Trump Jr. responded via email, "if it's what you say I love it."
But during that June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. grew impatient and wound up "cutting off" the Russian lawyer, according to Goldstone's testimony .
Goldstone said he even gave an awkward apology as the group left.
"I said to him, 'Don, I really want to apologize,'" Goldstone said. "This was hugely embarrassing. I have no idea what this meeting was actually about."
In a separate email, Goldstone later wrote: "I don't even know for sure who these Russian people were."
Trump Jr. says the Russian attorney offered information involving Democratic donors possibly avoiding taxes, but he wasn't interested because none of the points raised were "campaign issues."
Then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was not interviewed by the committee, apparently took notes on his phone during the Trump Tower meeting, and those notes were obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The notes mention Browder, Russian adoption, and Cyprus, among other things.
Veselnitskaya said in response to a letter sent to her by the committee that her meeting with Trump Jr. was "a very simple and short conversation."
She told the committee that during the meeting, Trump Jr. "asked if I had any financial documents proving that what may have been illegally obtained funds were also being donated to Mrs. Clinton's foundation." She said that she replied that "I did not and that it was not my issue," and with that, "[t]he meeting, essentially, ended there."
At the meeting, she said she had introduced herself as a Russian lawyer who had investigated William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, and accused him of misleading Congress. Her goal was to convince Congress to investigate Browder's activities (at one time, Browder managed the largest portfolio invested in Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal). She didn't remember referencing "anything but the Magnitsky Act," a U.S. law banning Russian adoptions, and the Russian sentencing of Browder for tax fraud, and much of her written testimony is consumed by this topic.
Veselnitskaya denied the existence of any communications from or related to Trump campaign officials or family members. And she also denied having any documents or knowledge related to Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
She said that Trump Jr. concluded the meeting "politely," with "meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, 'if' or 'when' we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.'"
"I personally regarded this as an elegant, but final farewell," she continued.
In retrospect, she added, "Today, I understand why it took place and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted. The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. Goldstone."
According to her letter, she believed her meeting with Trump Jr. was to be private. She told the committee that on June 8, 2016, she received an email from Rob Goldstone, the music promoter who arranged the meeting. She said the note mentioned Aras Agalarov's colleague, Irakli Kaveladze.
Veselnitskaya also said that on the day of the meeting, she invited her interpreter, Anatoly Samochernov, and a colleague who had worked on the Prevezon case, Rinat Akhmetshin, to the meeting.
She told the committee she only realized that Jared Kushner had attended the Trump Tower meeting later, when she recognized his photo on her cell phone. She said he just listened and said nothing during the meeting and did not stay for the entire meeting. She said that then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort looked at his phone and "at some point it seemed to me that he closed his eyes and fell asleep."
Veselnitskaya denied knowing anything about the author of the Trump dossier, Christopher Steele, except from what she had heard in U.S. media reports.
She did say, however, that she knows Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the strategic intelligence firm that was hired to research Donald Trump and other presidential candidates in the fall of 2015. Fusion GPS had also worked for a Russian company called Prevezon Holdings, which was represented by Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya also denied a Fox News report saying that she had met with Simpson during her June 2016 U.S. trip.
This is a developing story.
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