Un­apolo­getic Trump Jr.: Not trou­bled that I met with Rus­sian

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By ERIC TUCKER, MARY CLARE JALONICK and CHAD DAY

WASH­ING­TON — 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-in­law 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.”

AP photo

Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Vice Chair­man Mark Warner, D-Va., emerges from be­hind closed doors af­ter mem­bers of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee met with for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity chiefs in their probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial...

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