Trump Jr. Wanted Info On Clinton's 'Fitness' In Meeting With Russians | KERA News

Trump Jr. Wanted Info On Clinton's 'Fitness' In Meeting With Russians

Sep 7, 2017
Originally published on September 7, 2017 5:20 pm

Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET

Donald Trump Jr. told congressional investigators on Thursday that his June 2016 meeting with a Russian contingent after an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton provided no useful information and was ultimately a waste of time.

In fact after it was over, Trump Jr. said, "I gave it no further thought."

The meeting, which took place at Trump Tower in New York City, has emerged as an important point of the investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia's interference in last year's election.

President Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting at Trump Tower.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Trump Jr. for five hours on the meeting and other questions about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians during the presidential race.

In his prepared statement for the committee, Trump Jr. said the 2016 meeting "provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented."

"The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions," he said, as first reported by The New York Times.

NPR obtained a copy of the statement.

Trump Jr. released emails this summer that told a story that began in Moscow: Russia's chief federal prosecutor used a series of intermediaries to offer Trump Jr. dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. agreed to meet with people to learn more.

Trump Jr. said in his statement Thursday he was "skeptical" at the time that the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had compromising materials on Clinton, but he said he agreed to the meeting because if she did have "information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out."

If he had received damaging information, he said, he would have consulted with a lawyer to make an informed decision on how to proceed.

But in the end, Veselnitskaya only talked generally about "individuals connected to Russia" supporting or funding Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.

"It was quite difficult for me to understand what she was saying or why," Trump Jr. said.

He said Veselnitskaya then turned to the issue of adoptions of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act.

Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, imposing sanctions on a small group of Russian elites. President Vladimir Putin reacted angrily by banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans, and lobbyists have been working inside the U.S. ever since to get Congress to overturn the financial restrictions.

Trump Jr. said Kushner and Manafort did not know about the topic of the meeting beforehand and that Kushner left the gathering early. He also said he has no recollection of "any documents being offered or left for us."

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes, he said, and he does not recall discussing it with Kushner, Manafort or anyone else afterward, including Trump, until it came to light this year.

Trump Jr.'s account largely matches the final version of the explanations he provided this summer after an initial account by The New York Times. Initially he said the meeting only was about "adoptions," but he later released his email chain that told the full story.

In one exchange Trump Jr. responded to what was described as the Russian government's offer of help by saying: "If it's what you say, I love it."

In Trump Jr.'s written statement, he told the Judiciary Committee that what he meant was that he was grateful for the work being done to convey the offer by publicist Rob Goldstone.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is not the primary operation on Capitol Hill digging into the Russian imbroglio, but it nonetheless has ramped up its investigative efforts. The main work lies with the Senate and House intelligence committees, with which Trump Jr. has not spoken. Special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing the FBI's probe.

Trump Jr. issued another statement after his Capitol Hill appearance on Thursday in which he said staff members had "exhausted their lines of questioning" and that "I trust this interview fully satisfied their inquiry."

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