At a Thursday Senate Judiciary hearing, Donald Trump Jr. confirmed he set up and attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer in the hopes of obtaining damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s “fitness” for office.
“To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out,” Trump told the committee, according to a transcript obtained by The New York Times. “Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.”
Thursday’s statement underlines the fact that his initial statement, which was reportedly dictated by the president in July, was misleading and false. Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, who are tasked with investigating any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, are “keenly interested” in the president’s involvement in crafting the statement. This is of interest to the Mueller because Trump may have tried to “corruptly persuade” a witness into giving false testimony, which is a crime.
The Washington Post reported in late July that while on the plane ride back from the G 20 summit, the president was involved in crafting a statement that Trump Jr. met with Russians primarily to discuss a “program about the adoption of Russian children. This talking point was also defended by administration officials like Kellyanne Conway, who said the “entire purpose of the meeting” was Russian adoptions.
“As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified,” Trump Jr. told the committee Thursday. “The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented.”
Even this initial statement was perpetuated Russian propaganda. When Russian officials want to talk about “adoptions” they really mean “sanctions” imposed by the United States against Russia. The adoption program was halted by the Russian government in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, in which Congress imposed sanctions on certain Russian figures over human rights issues.
Eight people attended the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer: Donald Trump Jr. himself, Jared Kushner, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone, a translator, and Irakly Kaveladze — who runs the company of the Russian billionaire who set up the meeting. Many of the Russian attendees have checkered pasts, ranging from money-laundering schemes to associations with Russia’s counterintelligence service.
Donald Trump Jr. told the Judiciary Committee Thursday that he always intended on consulting with a lawyer before using any information given to him at the June 2016 meeting by the Kremlin-connected lawyer.
But that explaination poses a real legal problem for Trump Jr. Shortly after the revelations that Trump Jr. attended the meeting with the intention of getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint to both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Election Committee (FEC) alleging that Trump Jr. “solicited a contribution from a foreign national in violation of the Federal Election Committee Act.” While the president’s son may not have accepted the contribution from a foreign national, he admits he solicited the contribution, which is also prohibited.