Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators that he did nothing wrong in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting which had been advertised as one that might give the Trump Campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as an unexpected document dump by a Senate committee on Tuesday released new information about the investigation, spurred new questions, and filled in some blanks about the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did,” Trump Jr. said flatly in his interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the panel released transcripts of Trump Jr. and others involved in that controversial Trump Tower gathering, handing out no information which showed any direct links to President Donald Trump, but raising more questions about contacts with Russians during the election.
It was the first time official testimony had been made public from a Trump family member on the Russia probe, as Trump Jr. made no bones about declaring his innocence, but sidestepped dozens of queries by saying he didn’t remember or recall what had happened.
Here’s some of what we learned, and some questions raised Tuesday in the Russia investigation:
1. Senate Judiciary documents provide more detail on Russia probe. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday dropped over 2,000 pages of transcripts, emails, text messages, and other documents from that panel’s review of the Russia probe. No final report was issued by committee Republicans, but it didn’t take long to find new nuggets in the fine print, especially in the interview done with Donald Trump Jr., which focused a great deal on the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and a group of Russians. Trump Jr. denied any wrongdoing.
2. Wikileaks asked Trump Jr. to leak his father’s tax returns. Among the questions asked of the President’s son, were there contacts between the campaign and Wikileaks, the internet group which ended up leaking large amounts of emails from Democratic Party staffers and officials, and which U.S. Intelligence regards as a pawn of Russian Intelligence. Trump Jr. revealed that he had been in contact with Wikileaks via Twitter, and revealed one interesting request – they wanted Trump Jr. to forward his father’s tax returns, in order to be leaked out by Wikileaks.
3. Jared Kushner not pleased with Trump Tower meeting. While Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, refused to sit for an interview with investigators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, there was an interesting insight provided about him from Rob Goldstone, who had helped set up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Campaign officials and a woman who was characterized as a “Russian government attorney.” Before the meeting, there had been a promise of “dirt” which would incriminate Hillary Clinton, but instead, the presentation centered more on changes in adoption policies dealing with Russians. Goldstone told investigators that Kushner seemed agitated, and then infuriated, when there was no ‘smoking gun’ on Clinton presented in the meeting.
4. Scramble as details of Trump Tower meeting emerges. When press reports in July of 2017 began to detail who was involved in the meeting, and the focus on opposition research involving Hillary Clinton, emails and text messages from some of the participants show them scrambling to figure out what to say as reporters zeroed in for comment. While Trump Jr. had maintained the meeting was only about Russian adoption policies, that changed when he released email traffic from before the meeting, just before it was being published by the New York Times. In one email to Ike Kaveladze, who was in the meeting, an unidentified acquaintance wondered if the President’s son had caused himself trouble. “Why did he release this e-mail admitting to collusion?” the person wrote. One other thing – if you note the attachment listed on the below email, you can find that same identifier string by going to a tweet by Donald Trump Jr., when he released his email traffic about the Trump Tower meeting. So this email is clearly about that tweet.
5. Trump Organization lawyers coordinated press response. As details of that Trump Tower meeting emerged in July 2017, putting Trump Jr. and others on the defensive, emails released by the Judiciary Committee show that the Trump Organization stepped in to put together a response. Rob Goldstone, who helped facilitate the meeting, pleaded with a top legal official for the Trump Organization for guidance as the press coverage intensified. “Can I please at least now see the statement you guys put out?” A day later, everyone seemed to be on the same page, as Goldstone sent out an email with the subject line, “Here is statement drafted by Trump lawyers which they have asked me to release.”
6. Senate Intelligence Committee at odds with House on Russia probe. Just as the Senate Judiciary Committee made its document dump, the Senate Intelligence Committee released an overall statement on how the U.S. Intelligence Community assessed the threat from Russia, during the 2016 campaign. Taking a much different path than their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said their investigation agreed with the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community, that Russia was not only trying to interfere in the 2016 election, but trying to help one particular candidate. “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).
7. FBI Director: Russia probe not a witch hunt. A few hours later on Capitol Hill, the FBI Director was before a Senate panel for a regular budget hearing, but fielded questions on a variety of topics, one of them being the Russia investigation. FBI chief Christopher Wray defended the work of his agents, and specifically stood by his statement of July 2017, when he disagreed with President Trump’s charge that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt.” Wray did that again on Tuesday.
8. Trump formally admits paying Michael Cohen, who paid Stormy Daniels. In a submission to the Office of Government Ethics, President Trump’s financial disclosure form for 2017 had a small footnote added, confirming that Mr. Trump had “reportable liabilities” in 2016 to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 – $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero,” it said. Maybe of more interest was that OGE officials then sent a letter to the Deputy Attorney General, advising him of the addition. Acting OGE Director David Apol wrote, “you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President’s prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017. It almost sounded like a criminal referral for a false statement.
9. Cohen still battling with lawyer for Stormy Daniels. As the lawyer for Daniels, the outspoken Michael Avenatti, tries to get involved in the case surrounding the April 9 FBI raid on Cohen, a federal judge in New York ordered Cohen to weigh in on why Avenatti should not be allowed to be heard in the case. Avenatti has already uncorked a series of revelations about payments to Cohen, which brought an unprecedented release of banking records, supposedly from a financial whistleblower, who told the New Yorker of the movement of large amounts of money through accounts linked to Cohen. Does it have anything to do with the Russia probe? Something to think about.
10. The Rolling Stones and Donald Trump. Reporters who have regularly covered President Trump on the road are very familiar with the songs played for the crowd, both before and after Mr. Trump speaks. When his events end, the Rolling Stones blares with the song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ Ironically, the FBI nicknamed the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election after another Stones song – according to a report in the New York Times, the investigation was named Operation Crossfire Hurricane. For you Stones fans out there, that’s from the first line of the song Jumpin’ Jack Flash. This is from Madison Square Garden in 1969. I wonder if the name of the operation is a play on Five Eyes, and the reach of U.S. Intelligence partners.