Donald Trump, Jr. wrapped up his five-hour Thursday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a statement saying that he believed the interview “fully satisfied” investigators’ questions, but subsequent inside accounts of the interview made clear that he declined to address some of their most pressing lines of inquiry.
One focus of the interview, according to the Washington Post and CNN, was the role that the White House and President Donald Trump himself played in crafting the initial statement Trump Jr. released about his June 2016 meeting with Russian operatives promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s eldest son repeatedly said that he could not recall details about the Trump administration’s involvement in the public response to the meeting, or the degree to which his father was involved, according to both publications. In response to committee staffers’ questions, Trump Jr. specifically denied taking any of the Russian participants to visit with his father at Trump Tower, where the sit-down was held, or telling his father about the meeting afterwards, according to CNN.
This stated lack of engagement with the White House breaks sharply with previous reporting on the harried efforts to get ahead of stories about the meeting. The New York Times reported in July that senior White House aides, Trump’s personal legal team, Trump Jr. himself, and lawyers for Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who also attended the meeting, all coordinated the initial response while the President was flying back from the G20 summit in Berlin. Trump himself signed off on a misleading statement that claimed the meeting focused mostly on the adoption of Russian children, according to the Times.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump tried to hide the nature of the meeting or knowingly issued an incorrect statement as part of his probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He recently approached the White House about interviewing staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the misleading statement was drafted, according to CNN.
Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told the Post that it was “ridiculous” to assert that his client failed to recall important details in the interview, calling “many” of the committee staffers’ questions “historical or esoteric” and “far afield from the committee’s mandate.”
Another significant memory lapse involved the three phone calls that Trump Jr. had prior to the meeting with Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star acquainted with the family. Emails between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who said he brokered the meeting on the Agalarovs’ behalf, mentioned arranging calls between the two men, while Trump Jr. acknowledged in his prepared statement that his phone records documented those three conversations.
But Trump Jr. told the committee he could not recall what they spoke about, according to the Post, and a lawyer for Agalarov told the newspaper that he had “absolutely no memory” of the conversations either. Agalarov’s phone records also documented the three calls.
Trump Jr.’s prepared statement asserted that neither he nor anyone he knew colluded with any foreign government and that he only took the meeting, which he described as a waste of time, to see if the Kremlin-linked individuals present had information about Clinton’s “fitness” for office.
According to CNN, Senate staffers asked why then-candidate Trump teased that he would soon announce significant dirt about Clinton mere days after his son set up the meeting. Trump Jr. said that his father was simply speaking with his signature bombast, per the report.
Trump’s eldest son, who played a significant role on the campaign, was also asked about Russian efforts to spread false news stories on social media and about the Trump Organization’s efforts to construct a luxury building in Moscow in the thick of the campaign. Neither CNN nor the Post had details on his response.