By ERIC TUCKER, MARY CLARE JALONICK and CHAD DAY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Questioned intently by a Senate committee, President Donald Trump’s son struck a firmly unapologetic tone, deflected many queries and said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in hopes of election-season dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to transcripts released Wednesday.
Donald Trump Jr., speaking in a closed-door interview last year with the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he did not give much thought to the idea that the June 9, 2016 meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his father in the presidential race.
“I don’t know that it alarmed me, but I like I said, I don’t know and I don’t know that I was all that focused on it at the time,” Trump Jr. said in response to a question about whether he was troubled by the prospect of Russian support, the transcripts show.
The committee on Wednesday released about 2,500 pages of interview transcripts and other documents tied to the New York meeting, which Trump Jr. attended with the expectation of receiving compromising information about his father’s Democratic opponent.
The transcripts reveal some new details about how the meeting — a key point of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign — came to be arranged and efforts afterward to mitigate the political damage arising from its disclosure.
They also show the disappointment of Trump Jr. and other campaign figures, including brother-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, when the meeting failed to yield the harmful Clinton information they thought they’d get — as well as the increasing panic of one of the meeting participants who feared his reputation would be ruined by his role in setting it up.
The transcripts also reflect an aggressive Russian outreach to Trump before and after the New York meeting, including an effort to arrange a follow-up get-together that November with a member of the transition team. The follow-up never happened.
Though Trump Jr. may have been dissatisfied with how the meeting turned out, the interview and his own emails make clear that he had high hopes going in. After music publicist Rob Goldstone promised him “very interesting” information from a well-connected Russian lawyer, including documents “that would incriminate Hillary,” the president’s oldest son responded via email, “if it’s what you say I love it.”
Throughout the private Senate interview, Trump Jr. appeared unapologetic about having taken the meeting, saying at one point, “I didn’t think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no.”
Trump Jr. issued a statement Wednesday pronouncing himself candid and forthright with the committee, but the transcripts show that he responded time and again to questions by saying he could not recall or had no idea. He answered “No, I don’t recall” when asked if he had spoken with his father about the Russia investigation. He also did not remember the attendance at the meeting of a Russian-American lobbyist who — in a quirky sartorial detail revealed in the transcripts — was wearing pink jeans and a pink T-shirt that day.
Trump Jr. spoke by phone several days before the meeting took place with a caller with a blocked number, but said he didn’t recall who the person was and didn’t know if his father used a blocked number. He told the committee that he didn’t alert his father to the meeting beforehand.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Senate intelligence committee said it stands behind a 2017 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. That conclusion differs from a House intelligence committee report released last month, which found no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Both the House and Senate intelligence panels have produced reports on their own Russia investigations. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced in January that he wanted to release transcripts from his committee’s interviews because people “deserve to have all the facts, not just one side of this story.” Senate Judiciary Democrats said the transcripts are just “one piece of a much larger puzzle” and do not tell the entire story because some meeting participants were not interviewed or subpoenaed.
Besides Trump Jr., the committee interviewed several other people who attended the meeting_Goldstone; Rinat Akhmetshin, a prominent Russian-American lobbyist; Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer, and a translator.
The committee did not interview Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the center of the meeting. But the panel released her written responses to a letter the committee sent her.
Some of the questioning of Trump Jr. centered on a statement drafted just as news of the meeting was about to break. The White House has said the president was involved in its drafting.
That statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though Trump Jr. later released the emails showing he agreed to the sit-down after he was promised information on Clinton.
Asked in the interview if his father was involved in drafting the statement, Trump said: “I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.”
Besides providing a timeline of the days leading up to the meeting, the transcripts also reflect misgivings about its appropriateness.
Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the request of Azerbaijani-Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, said, “I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it.”
“I’m a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about,” Goldstone said, adding that neither did Emin Agalarov nor Agalarov’s father, Aras.
The Agalarovs had bonded with the Trumps during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Like Trump Jr. and Kushner, who released his own statement about the meeting last year, Goldstone considered the meeting disappointing. He said he complained about damage to his reputation and told Emin Agalarov that “this was the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever asked me to do.”
Agalarov responded: “That should give you mega PR.”
Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Jake Pearson and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.