In more than seven hours of testimony in Congress on Wednesday, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., refused to talk about phone calls he had with his father discussing a meeting he held with a Russian lawyer after being promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege when the House Intelligence Committee grilled him behind closed doors about the conversation, the committee’s top Democrat, Representative Adam Schiff of California, told reporters after the session.
Lawyers for both the president and his son were in on the call, but Schiff said, “The presence of counsel does not mean communications between father and son are privileged.” He added, “I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present.”
The conversation between Trump Jr. and his father took place in July of this year, around six months after Trump's inauguration, and soon after a July 8 report in The New York Times revealed that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower during the presidential primaries in June 2016.
During his recent testimony, Trump Jr. told the committee that his father didn’t know about the June 2016 meeting, a source familiar with the interview told the Associated Press. The meeting was also attended by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
When news of the meeting originally broke a year later, President Trump personally dictated a response to the story, according to senior advisers who spoke with The Washington Post at the time. The White House confirmed the president was involved in drafting a response. The statement said the Trump Tower meeting focused on “a program about the adoption of Russian children” that the Kremlin ended after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs in 2012.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer Trump Jr. met, contradicted the president’s response in a letter answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee released Wednesday.
Veselnitskaya said of the meeting, “Donald 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.” Veselnitskaya said these documents appeared to be Trump Jr.'s primary interest as the meeting essentially ended when she said she didn’t have the information.
The meeting is of keen interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and several Senate and House committees that are investigating whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
Days after Trump’s first statement on the story, Trump Jr. published an email chain showing he set up the meeting with Rob Goldstone, the publicist of Russian oligarch Emin Agalarov, after being offered help from the Russian government in the form of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”
Veselnitskaya denies ever having such information and wrote in the letter released this week that Trump Jr. misunderstood the purpose of the meeting because of Goldstone’s “roguish letters” setting it up. Goldstone has said he puffed up the language of the original email invitation, the contents of which were dictated to him by Agalarov—whose father is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump Jr.’s refusal to answer questions about his conversation with his father “have given Mueller a clearer signal that the answer is incriminating,” wrote former Department of Justice Director of Public Affairs Matthew Miller on Twitter on Wednesday.
Schiff told reporters that he wants Trump Jr. to answer questions about his conversations with his father and their public response to the meeting.
“I don’t think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would dispute the fact that as to this very central conversation between father and son, the witness declined to answer the question,” Schiff said.
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