Trump Jr.’s team wanted stories straight on Russian lawyer meeting
Attorneys for Donald Trump Jr. sought to coordinate public statements for attendees of a June 2016 meeting between a Kremlin-connected lawyer and top Trump campaign aides after news broke of the controversial sitdown, according to transcripts released Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The 2016 meeting at Trump Tower — attended by Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — was billed as an opportunity for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
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But after the meeting became public last year, Trump Jr. claimed that only Russian adoption policy was discussed. And even before reporting revealed the meeting, the new transcripts show that his lawyer had begun reaching out to multiple participants to get their accounts straight regarding the day in question.
These discrepancies — and the meeting itself — have since become a key part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia on its attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Intelligence leaders believe the Kremlin was trying to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in his White House bid.
The passages revealing the work Trump Jr.’s attorney did to get attendees on the same page are part of more than 2,500 pages of transcripts and exhibits released Wednesday by the judiciary panel that stem from interviews with six attendees of the June 2016 meeting.
Here are the highlights from the massive document dump:
Trump Jr. attorney Alan Futerfas tried to harmonize accounts of the meeting: According to the documents, Futerfas contacted three participants in the meeting — publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian singer Emin Agalarov and Russian executive Ike Kaveladze — to discuss their memories of the day.
On July 10, two days after a New York Times report first revealed the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, exhibits released by the committee show that Goldstone forwarded Agalarov and Kaveladze a proposed “statement drafted by Trump lawyers which they have asked me to release.”
In his email to Goldstone proposing the statement, Futerfas wrote that “if you feel comfortable with this statement and are comfortable saying nothing more, at least for the time being, that would be our preference.”
Futerfas did not immediately return a request for comment.
It’s unclear what the president’s role was: President Trump himself is reported to have helped craft a statement about the 2016 meeting that portrayed it as dealing largely with Russian adoption laws and not campaign matters, which obscured its initial portrayal to Trump Jr. as a chance to receive dirt on Clinton. The Russian government in 2012 barred American families from adopting Russian children.
Trump’s attempt to draft a news release has also drawn scrutiny from Mueller’s team.
The transcript of an interview with Trump Jr. leaves it unclear what role Trump played in drafting the statement. Trump Jr. said his father “may have commented through Hope Hicks,” the former White House communications director, and that some of those comments “may have been” included in the final statement.
“This was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel,” Trump Jr. added.
Trump Jr. has never discussed the FBI’s Russia probe with the president?: Trump Jr. told the Senate panel that he could not recall ever talking with his father about the government’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
“No, not that I remember,” he said.
The comment was immediately met with skepticism from Democrats, who suggested the transcripts included misleading and contradictory statements. But Trump Jr. insisted that the release was exonerating.
“The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the Committee,” he said in a statement.
Everyone left the meeting angry: It seems no party involved in the Trump Tower gathering was happy with the outcome.