Donald Trump Jr. may not have the best memory. Or at least that’s what he conveyed to the House intelligence committee investigating his role in the Trump-Russia saga behind closed doors on Wednesday.
Two sources familiar with Trump-the-Younger’s testimony told The Daily Beast that he gave “I don’t recall” as an answer to a massive litany of lawmakers’ questions. Many of those questions centered around the younger Trump’s role in the now-infamous June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, in which he sought damaging information on Hillary Clinton from Kremlin-connected figures.
Yet there was one major aspect of Trump Tower get-together that the president’s son managed to recall with vivid clarity, the two sources said. Trump Jr. told the committee during its marathon hearing that he did not discuss the meeting with his father at the time.
Trump Jr. told legislators that after the news of the Trump Tower meeting broke this summer, he texted with White House aide Hope Hicks about a response, as CNN first reported. In Trump Jr.’s telling, he only discussed the meeting with President Trump a year later, when it became public. Trump Jr.’s initial account of the meeting, quickly abandoned, was that the meeting was just about an adoption program and “not a campaign issue,” according to a misleading statement reportedly penned by the president himself.
And in a contention that puzzled lawmakers, Trump Jr. said that discussion with the president was subject to attorney-client privilege, and did not substantively answer questions about the father-son discussion, too.
Jackie Speier, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, alluded to Trump Jr.’s nonresponsiveness on CNN Wednesday night, saying the younger Trump had a “very serious case of amnesia.” Speier’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Not everyone in the interview with Trump Jr., which lasted the better part of seven hours, came away frustrated. The Republican chairing the Russia inquiry, Mike Conaway of Texas, told reporters on Wednesday: “From my perspective, all of our questions were answered.”
Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing Donald Trump Jr., did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
On June 3, 2016, a music publicist named Rob Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that the “crown prosecutor of Russia” (an apparent mischaracterization of the country’s prosecutor-general) was in possession of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” Goldstone said it was “obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. emailed back: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
That was the genesis of a June 9, 2016 meeting that investigators exploring the Trump-Russia connections consider a key moment. Trump Jr. was accompanied by then-campaign chief Paul Manafort, whom special counsel Robert Mueller indicted on money laundering charges in October, and brother-in-law Jared Kushner, whom Mueller is reportedly scrutinizing as well.
The Russians whom Trump Jr. understood were Kremlin-tied figures offering them damaging information on their political opponent included attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military counterintelligence officer who has been accused of involvement in a giant hacking scheme.
As this story went to press, CNN reported that after the meeting, Goldstone followed up with the Trumpland participants, encouraging aide Dan Scavino to set up an account on Russia’s equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte, something to which Goldstone said “Don and Paul” had given their blessing.
Veselnitskaya provided her account of the meeting to the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 20. She blamed Goldstone for misrepresenting to Trump Jr. her attempts to discuss what she considers the iniquity of a U.S. sanctions law known as the Magnitsky Act, which Akhmetshin has also lobbied against.
“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. I said that I did not and that it was not my issue. The meeting, essentially, ended there,” Veselnitskaya told that committee. (She also told the committee that no one at the meeting “discuss[ed] a proposal regarding Vkontakte,” a question the committee posed to her without elaboration.)
The Russian lawyer provided to her congressional interlocutors a substantial amount of detail about when she says she learned about the meeting, why she was in New York City at the times, and what she discussed when she met with the future president’s son. It remains to be seen if Trump Jr. can match that sort of specificity. A transcript of the lengthy interview he gave the House intelligence committee is expected to be released by early next week.