Trump Jr. spent about three hours with the committee Wednesday as part of its ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The president’s eldest son has been a focus of several investigations — including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s — over his involvement in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Democrats believe Trump Jr.’s characterization of that meeting may have been misleading. He told congressional panels previously that he never informed his father about the audience with the Russian lawyer, but that account was challenged in Mueller’s report. The special counsel’s findings detailed the recollections of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who spoke of a phone call in which Trump Jr. told his father about a meeting to collect “adverse information” on Clinton.
Cohen, who also has spoken to several of the congressional panels investigating Russia’s election interference, is serving a three-year prison sentence for financial crimes and lying to Congress — a fact Trump Jr. noted Wednesday as he defended his prior testimony.
“The reality is there was nothing to change. If there needed to be clarification because Michael Cohen — who, let’s not forget, is serving time right now for lying to these very investigative bodies — I’m happy to do that,” he told reporters following the interview. “I don’t think I changed anything of what I said because there was nothing to change. I’m glad that this is finally over, we were able to put some final clarity on that and I think the committee understands that.”
Still, the committee’s interview with Trump Jr. appeared to take them into new territory with the witness, a sign of potential new areas of inquiry in the panel’s long-running investigation.
According to people familiar with Trump Jr.’s Wednesday interview, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked him questions about his relationship with George Nader, who functioned as a liaison between foreigners hoping to make inroads with the Trump transition team and was a key witness in Mueller’s report. Among the introductions Nader helped to facilitate was a meeting in the Seychelles between Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a Trump supporter, and Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker with Kremlin ties, promising Dmitriev that Prince “wielded influence” with Trump’s team, according to the report.
The committee wanted to know if Trump Jr. was aware of Nader’s relationship with Dmitriev, his ties to the United Arab Emirates, and his contacts with Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media expert who the New York Times reported met with Nader and Trump Jr. in August 2016, according to people familiar with the conversation. One person in the room said Trump Jr. testified that he was wary of Nader’s persistent invitations and request and did not respond. Nader was charged earlier this month with transporting child pornography.
Trump Jr. said he was not familiar with the details of plans to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow and told the panel that the Trump Organization often considers several potential international proposals at the same time.
In general, people in the room for the interview said, Trump Jr. frequently claimed to be unable to recall several interactions and other episodes he was queried about.
Trump Jr.’s lawyer insisted after the interview that his client’s responses were solid.
“Given a presidential campaign, a contested convention, opening [the Trump International] Hotel in D.C., trying to maintain a worldwide business and a million other things, recall of a particular phone call, if one even occurred, or a single meeting out of thousands, is simply unrealistic,” said Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s lawyer. “There was plenty he did recall, and there is no question that he was forthright and candid.”
People familiar with the interview said it was less contentious than the panel’s second-round interview with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who returned to speak with the panel in March. That stands in contrast to the comparatively difficult process to schedule Trump Jr.’s second interview.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has been calling several key witnesses back to the panel for second interviews, so that senators can have a chance to speak to them directly. At first, Trump Jr. objected to an open-ended request to appear for questioning, saying that he had already provided lengthy testimony to the committee.
In the end, Trump Jr. struck a deal to speak with the panel for up to four hours on a limited range of topics.
Trump Jr. appeared confident and relaxed after the hearing, talking with friends and guests at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, and taking photographs with visitors.
Futerfas said, “We are very pleased with how the meeting went today.” He described Trump Jr. as “professional and candid,” and added that the committee seemed “appreciative of his appearance.”
Neither Burr nor the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), would comment on the substance of Wednesday’s interview.