Yesterday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee released over two thousand pages of intelligence gathered in connection with their investigation into the Trump Tower meeting and potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government. Among that evidence was the interview given by Donald Trump Jr. before the Committee on September 7, 2017. Though much has already been discussed regarding the infamous Trump Tower meeting, this is our first look at how Don Jr. responded to the investigation.
Before we dive into the analysis, I do want to commend Don Jr. on his preparation. He gave a well-rehearsed opening statement and was polite and considerate to all Committee members, expressing his thanks at having the opportunity to dispel the dishonest rumors surrounding the meeting. Who exactly has been dishonest remains to be seen, but we'll give him props for putting on a good face.
Okay, so let's quickly remind ourselves of the context of the Trump Tower meeting and the parties involved. Emin Agalarov is a Russian singer who is managed by Rob Goldstone. Emin's father, Aras, is a close associate of Putin and other Russian government officials. Emin performed at the Miss Universe pageant and therefore has a casual relationship with Don Jr., as does Goldstone. On June 3, 2016, Goldstone emailed Don Jr. saying, "The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with Aras and offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary in her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father...This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump, helped along by Aras" (pg. 23). Junior testified that prior to the Trump Tower meeting he had never communicated with Goldstone about the Russian government's support of the Trump campaign. He also states that at the time he received this email, he had no reason to believe the Russian government supported Candidate Trump.
Don Jr. responds to Goldstone and says he would like to talk to Emin about potentially setting up a meeting. He's told that Emin will call him within 20 minutes. On June 6, Junior receives an incoming call 20 minutes after this email exchange. After this call, he phones a blocked number and talks for four minutes. He then calls Emin back. Despite remembering that the two outside calls were from and to Emin, he cannot remember who this middle number is. There is speculation that he phoned Trump between calls to confirm whether the meeting should go forward, as it is widely known Trump uses a blocked number at his Trump Tower residence. This will be important for later testimony.
After agreeing to set up a meeting with Goldstone and a "Russian government attorney," Junior reports that he asked Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort if they could sit in on the meeting (pg. 28). According to his testimony, Junior told no one else that the meeting would be taking place and invited no one else to attend. When asked if he informed his father of the meeting, Junior responds, "No I did not" (pg. 29). Junior is then asked about an email sent from Mr. Goldstone to Rhona Graff, Donald Trump's personal assistant, on July 22, 2015. The email states, "Emin has an e-mail invite for Mr. Trump to attend his father's 60th birthday in Moscow on November 8" (pg. 31). Ms. Graff responds that she will let Trump know of the invitation but "given his presidential campaign it's highly unlikely that he would have time on his calendar to go to Moscow in November." Goldstone replies, "I totally understand re Moscow, unless maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin which Emin would set up" (pg.31). This is contextually relevant to the Trump Tower meeting because it shows the level of influence Emin and his father had with the Russian government and casts doubt on whether Don Jr. would really schedule a meeting about a tip from Emin and not tell his father. Don Jr. is no doubt trying to protect his father by saying that he handled this meeting personally and not as an official campaign representative. Nevertheless, inviting Paul Manafort certainly made this campaign-related and there was a history of Emin and Aras offering to forge a politically beneficial relationship between Trump and Putin.
Don Jr. testified that he was only made aware of the 60th-birthday-Putin-meeting-offer in preparation for his interview with the Committee. He also testified that he was not aware of any ties between Emin and the Russian government despite the fact that on February 29, 2016, Mr. Goldstrone emailed Junior and Ms. Graff saying, "Emin's father has asked me to pass on his congratulations in a letter enclosed below for Mr. Trump on the eve of Super Tuesday vote, offering his support and that of many of his important Russian friends and colleagues, especially with reference to U.S./Russian relations" (pg. 34). How then could Junior be unaware of a relationship between Emin's family and the Russian government when Emin's agent had been passing along the supportive sentiments of Putin's inner circle? In the letter Aras attached with Goldstone's email, he said "...the U.S. and Russia should work together more closely" (pg. 35). When prompted about this letter and asked how he would interpret the support of Aras and his "important Russian friends," Junior responds, "I don't remember getting it, but I would have interpreted it as casual congratulations." I don't think it's an overreaction to say that receiving an endorsement from a Putin associate along with the promise for a better Russian-American relationship is casual congratulations. Even if it is, it undermine's Junior's previous testimony that he had no reason prior to the Trump Tower meeting to believe that Russia supported Candidate Trump.
Let's think about this: Trump was important enough to Emin and Aras to receive continued political support and letters of congratulations. Despite this, when Emin offered to set up a meeting to dish dirt on Hillary Clinton and benefit Trump's campaign, Don Jr. says he did not share this with his father. For that to be the case there has to be a lot of miscommunication. Don Jr. says he told both Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner but not Trump, meaning that for Trump to truly not know the meeting would be taking place, his campaign manager, his son-in-law, and his son all would have had to keep something from him that had the potential to influence his bid for the presidency. And if this isn't a big deal, why would they have kept it from him at all?
More on that in Part 2. Stay tuned.