GOP’s Grassley wants testimony from Trump Jr.
Senate’s Judiciary chief says he’ll use subpoena if needed
WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he will call on President Donald Trump’s son to testify amid investigations into possible Russian meddling in last year’s election — and he said he’ll issue a subpoena if necessary.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday that he plans to send a letter to Donald Trump Jr. to ask him to appear before the committee. He said he wants Trump’s eldest child to testify “pretty soon,” and it could be as early as next week. Asked if he was willing to issue a subpoena if Trump Jr. declined to appear, Grassley said “yes.”
Trump Jr. released emails this week from 2016 in which he appeared eager to accept information from the Russian government that could have damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The emails were sent ahead of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended.
Grassley has said he also wants Manafort to testify. He said Wednesday that he wants to question Manafort about the government’s enforcement of a law requiring registration of foreign lobbyists. But Manafort would certainly also be asked about the New York meeting.
Grassley wouldn’t say what he wants to hear from Donald Trump Jr., but said members aren’t restricted “from asking anything they want to ask.” The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, had also called on Donald Trump Jr. to testify and had discussed possible subpoenas with Grassley.
A lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on whether his client would agree to appear before the committee. A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said the letter hasn’t been sent.
The president, in France on Thursday, defended his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer in June 2016, characterizing it as standard campaign practice and maintaining that “nothing happened.”
“As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man,” Trump said. “He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer.”
The email sent to the younger Trump described the lawyer as a “Russian government attorney” who he believed possessed incriminating information about Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign.
“I think from a practical standpoint most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent,” Trump said.
As well, Trump cast the meeting as simply standard practice in the cutthroat world of presidential politics, saying he often received phone calls from people saying that had information that could damage Clinton.
“Politics is not the nicest business in the world” and that it’s standard for candidates to welcome negative information about an opponent. In this case, he added, “nothing happened from the meeting, zero happened from the meeting.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of several congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said he would also like to hear from Trump Jr. But the committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, hasn’t said whether the secretive committee
will call him in.
In response to calls from others in Congress for him to testify before the intelligence panel, Trump Jr. tweeted Monday that he was “happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know.”
It’s unclear whether Trump Jr. would be as eager to testify before the Judiciary Committee which generally conducts open hearings. The Senate Intelligence Committee interviews many of its witnesses in closed sessions, though it has held an unusual number of open hearings as part of the Russia investigation.
Asked at his weekly news conference about Grassley’s letter and whether Trump Jr. should testify, House Speaker Paul Ryan didn’t object to the move.
“I think any witness who’s been asked to testify before Congress should testify,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he would leave it up to the witness and the Senate to decide whether the hearing should be held in public.
Also Thursday, the Justice Department released a heavily
blacked-out page from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ security clearance application in response to a government watchdog group’s lawsuit.
The application page asks whether Sessions — a senator before joining the Trump administration — or anyone in his immediate family had contact within the past seven years with a foreign government or its representatives.
There’s a “no” listed, but the rest of the answer is blacked out.
The department has acknowledged that Sessions omitted from his form meetings he had with foreign dignitaries, including the Russian ambassador.
A department spokesman says the FBI agent who helped with the form said those encounters didn’t have to be included as routine contacts as part of Sessions’ Senate duties.
The president has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and has questioned the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking and the release of Democratic
Party emails during the campaign.
Several election-law lawyers, Republican campaign operatives and Republican members of Congress said this week that there is nothing routine about foreigners meeting with a campaign on such matters.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said he was concerned that so many members of Trump’s orbit have failed to provide disclosures of their meetings
with Russians before being exposed by journalists.
“If you had a contact with Russia, tell the special counsel about it,” Gowdy said Monday on Fox News. “Don’t wait until The New York Times figures it out!”
Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee for FBI director, said in congressional testimony Wednesday that any politician receiving such an email from a foreign entity offering damaging information on a political opponent should alert the FBI: “Any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know,” Wray said.
Information for this article was contributed by Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker, Jessica Gresko and Richard Lardner of The Associated Press; by Ashley Parker of The Washington Post; and by Justin Sink, Margaret Talev, Toluse Olorunnipa and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News.