The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, seeking additional closed-door testimony as part of lawmakers’ ongoing probe of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, according to people familiar with the summons.
Trump Jr. has been a focus of several probes — including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — over his involvement in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who allegedly had promised incriminating information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Congressional Democrats think that in his previous turns on Capitol Hill, Trump Jr. may have lied to investigators about that meeting and whether he alerted his father that the meeting would take place.
News of the subpoena was first reported by Axios.
Trump Jr. is “exasperated” by the committee’s actions, according to a person who has discussed the subpoena with him, because he already “offered to continue to cooperate in writing.”
“From his view, Don Jr. thinks they just want a PR stunt,” the person said.
But the Intelligence Committee has been trying to schedule a second interview with Trump Jr. for weeks, according to people familiar with the negotiations, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The panel is bringing back several key witnesses for second interviews to give lawmakers a chance to question people previously interviewed only by committee staffers.
The subpoena is not new; it was issued at least a week ago, people familiar with the matter said. But a person close to Trump Jr. argued that no lawyer would allow him to go back to the panel for open-ended questioning.
As negotiations over Trump Jr.’s testimony dragged on, committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) became increasingly frustrated and believed that Trump Jr. was defying the committee’s authority and not honoring his original agreement, a person familiar with the matter said.
Trump Jr. had always understood that his first appearance was with committee staff and that members reserved the right to call him again so that they could question him, but he continued to put off his appearance, this person said.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appeared for a second closed-door interview with the committee in late March. After Mueller’s report was published, Democrats raised concerns that Kushner also may have lied to lawmakers about a business associate’s collaboration with a Russian banker close to the Kremlin on a project to repair U.S.-Russia relations.
But concerns about Trump Jr.’s statements are potentially more problematic for the president. According to a transcript of Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he told lawmakers that he did not tell his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr.’s testimony to other committees was in line with the account he gave to the Senate Judiciary panel, several Democrats said.
Yet in Mueller’s report, the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, said he recalled being in Trump’s office when Trump Jr. talked about a meeting to get “adverse information” on Clinton. Cohen told Mueller’s team that it appeared that father and son had previously discussed the subject.
Mueller never interviewed Trump Jr. Cohen is serving a three-year prison term for financial crimes and lying to Congress.
The revelation of the subpoena comes as the Trump administration wars with House Democrats over their inquiries into potential obstruction of justice, financial crimes and the Trump campaign’s contacts with foreign officials. The president has asserted executive privilege over the entire Mueller report — a move that will complicate Congress’s efforts to interview people who cooperated with the special counsel’s probe.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to take Trump’s side Tuesday, declaring that matters that Mueller investigated were closed. But thus far, the Senate Intelligence Committee has escaped pressure to end its probe.
The committee’s investigation has been Congress’s most bipartisan. Yet if Trump Jr. flouts the subpoena, it puts Burr in the awkward position of potentially taking Trump Jr. to court as the president continues his standoff with the House. Burr told The Washington Post this week that he was not inclined to pursue Trump Jr. for perjury over any potential lies, as Mueller did not charge him.
“I would assume that they made a determination either that they weren’t criminal or they weren’t chargeable,” Burr said. “I’m not interested in re-litigating any of Bob Mueller’s conclusions.”
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.