WASHINGTON – Questioned intently by a Senate committee, President Donald Trump’s son struck a firmly unapologetic tone, deflected many queries and said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in hopes of election-season dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to transcripts released Wednesday.
Asked if he was troubled by the idea that the meeting in June 2016 was part of a Russian government effort to help his father in the presidential race, Donald Trump Jr. said he didn’t give it much thought.
“I don’t know that it alarmed me, but I like I said, I don’t know and I don’t know that I was all that focused on it at the time,” Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in the closed-door interview last year.
The committee released more than 1,800 pages of transcripts of interviews with Trump Jr. and others who attended the New York meeting at which they expected to receive compromising information about Trump’s Democratic opponent. The panel also released more than 700 pages of exhibits including numerous emails, heavily redacted phone logs and court depositions.
The Trump Tower meeting is a key point of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible election collusion between Trump aides and the Kremlin.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Senate intelligence committee said it stands behind a 2017 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. That conclusion differs from a House intelligence committee report released last month.
Both the House and Senate intelligence panels have produced reports on their own Russia investigations. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced in January that he wanted to release transcripts from his committee’s interviews because people “deserve to have all the facts, not just one side of this story.”
According to the transcripts, Trump Jr. responded to dozens of queries – including about emails and phone calls leading up to the meeting – by saying he could not recall or had “no idea.” He said he did not alert his father to the meeting beforehand and he had never discussed with him the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference.
The transcripts reveal some new details about how the meeting came to be arranged and efforts afterward to mitigate the political damage arising from its disclosure.
They also show the dissatisfaction of Trump Jr. and other campaign figures, including brother-in-law Jared Kushner, when the meeting failed to yield the harmful Clinton information they thought they’d get – as well as the increasing panic of one of the meeting participants who feared his reputation would be ruined by his role in setting it up.
Trump Jr. had had high hopes. After music publicist Rob Goldstone promised him “very interesting” information, including documents “that would incriminate Hillary,” he responded via email, “if it’s what you say I love it.”
The transcripts also reflect an aggressive Russian outreach to Trump before and after the New York meeting, including an effort to arrange a follow-up get-together that November with a member of the transition team. The follow-up never happened.
Throughout the private Senate interview, Trump Jr. appeared unapologetic about having taken the meeting, which Goldstone had told him would be a way to receive damaging Clinton information from a well-connected Russian government lawyer.
“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,” said the president’s son.
Though the transcripts show he repeatedly answered questions by saying he couldn’t recall, Trump Jr. described himself as “candid and forthright” in a statement Wednesday,
He answered “No, I don’t recall” when asked if he had spoken with his father about the Russia investigation.
He also did not recall the attendance of a Russian-American lobbyist who – in a quirky sartorial detail revealed in the transcripts – was wearing pink jeans and a pink T-shirt that day.
Trump Jr. also made several calls to blocked numbers as he was setting up the meeting, but said he didn’t remember who he had called. He also said he didn’t know if his father used a blocked number.
Senate Judiciary Democrats said the transcripts are just “one piece of a much larger puzzle” and do not tell the entire story because some meeting participants were not interviewed or subpoenaed.
Besides Trump Jr., the committee interviewed four other people who attended the meeting–Goldstone; 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 the committee sent her.
The panel also did not interview Kushner or Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, though both attended the meeting.
Some of the questioning of Trump Jr. centered on a statement drafted just as news of the meeting was about to break. The White House has said the president was involved in its drafting.
That statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though Trump Jr. later released the emails showing he agreed to the sit-down after he was promised information on Clinton.
Asked in the interview if his father was involved in drafting the statement, Trump said: “I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.”
The transcripts provide a timeline of the days leading up to the meeting as well as misgivings about its appropriateness.
Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the request of Azerbaijani-Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, said, “I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it.”
“I’m a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about,” Goldstone said, adding that neither did Emin Agalarov nor Agalarov’s father, Aras.
The Agalarovs had bonded with the Trumps during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Like Trump Jr. and Kushner, who released his own statement about the meeting last year, Goldstone considered the meeting disappointing. He said he complained about damage to his reputation and told Emin Agalarov that “this was the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever asked me to do.”
Agalarov responded: “That should give you mega PR.”