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Trump Jr. told Senate he didn't recall telling father about Russian meeting

'I wouldn't have wasted his time with it,' he told Congress.
Image: Donald Trump Jr
Donald Trump Jr. arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 18, 2017. Albin Lohr-Jones / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. told Congress that he does not remember discussing with his father the infamous 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower before news of it broke last year, according to testimony released Wednesday.

"Obviously he's aware of it now because he's read it, it's been in the papers, but that's the extent of my knowledge of his knowledge of it," the president's son told the Senate Judiciary Committee during closed-door testimony in September.

Asked whether he spoke with his father immediately after the Trump Tower meeting, Trump Jr. said he did not.

"I wouldn't have wasted his time with it," he said, explaining that he took the meeting because he was told a Russian lawyer had dirt on Hillary Clinton that never materialized.

Trump Jr. also told the committee that he did not know if his father was involved in the drafting of a statement about the meeting in July 2017 that critics have said was misleading.

"I never spoke to my father about it," he told the committee.

In his testimony, Trump Jr. gave his account of the meeting in a prepared statement and then answered follow-up questions, frequently saying he could not recall details.

He was asked whether he "or anyone else" had encouraged Russians to hack Clinton's emails — which his father had done in July 2016, generating headlines. Trump Jr. said he himself had not.

"I don't remember if anyone else did," the president's son said. He also said his father has never expressed to him any frustration with the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

He was grilled about a phone call he made to a blocked number during the planning stages of the Trump Tower meeting, but said he didn't remember who he spoke with. Asked whether his father used a blocked number, Trump Jr. said, "I don't know."

In a statement after the testimony was released, Trump Jr. said the transcript showed "that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the committee."

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Trump Jr. "evaded and contradicted himself in many of his answers" and should appear again, this time under oath.

"I have no confidence that he has told the whole truth," Blumenthal said.

"One of the blatant potential untruths here is about his conversations with his father about this Trump Tower meeting."

The June 9, 2016, meeting is of keen interest to investigators probing Russian interference in the presidential election and possible links to the Trump campaign.

The sitdown was requested by Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who was working to overturn the Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. to freeze the assets of certain Russian officials.

The gathering was brokered and attended by Rob Goldstone, a colorful music promoter who represented Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the son of oligarch Aras Agalarov, who asked him to set it up on Veselnitskaya's behalf.

Also in attendance were President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner; former campaign chair Paul Manafort, now under indictment; Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer working as a lobbyist in Washington; Anatoli Samochornov, an interpreter; and Ike Kaveladze, an executive at the Agalarovs' real estate company.

Image: Natalia Veselnitskaya
Russian lawyer Natalia VeselnitskayaDmitry Serebryakov / AP file

Details of the meeting were first reported by the New York Times in July 2017. Days earlier, according to an email released by the committee, Goldstone wrote in an email that Trump lawyers were worried about how disclosures about it would look.

"I have today been interviewed by attorneys for the second time about it," Goldstone wrote to Emin Agalarov. "They are concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia — which he has always denied meeting.

"It's a really potentially serious situation — so you and your father should be aware," Goldstone added in the email.

In testimony, Goldstone told the Judiciary Committee that he told Agalarov from the start that he thought the face-to-face was a "really bad idea."

"Emin simply said that all he knew was that there was some potentially damaging information re: Hillary, which could be of interest to the Trumps," Goldstone said.

They are concerned because it links Don Jr. to officials from Russia — which he has always denied meeting.

Goldstone said he concluded the lawyer, Veselnitskaya, must be politically connected and did not understand why he or his client would get involved.

"In the call at the end, [I said] that I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn't do it," Goldstone said.

"He said, 'It doesn't matter. You just need to get the meeting.' And then I said, 'I think this is a really bad idea,' " Goldstone added.

Trump Jr. told the committee he was skeptical that the meeting would pay off.

But, he added, "at the time, I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say."

"As it later turned out," he continued, "my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out to be not about what was represented. The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions."

Asked whether he felt like he had been "duped" into attending the meeting organized by Goldstone under "false pretenses" to grab his attention, Trump Jr. said, "I imagine there was an element of showmanship involved."

In 2017, Trump Jr. tweeted out an email he'd sent to Goldstone prior to the Trump Tower meeting in which he responded to the possibility of getting Clinton dirt with, "If it's what you say I love it."

Goldstone told the committee that the president's son-in-law, Kushner, also seemed annoyed that Veselnitskaya's spiel didn't contain an obvious "smoking gun."

"After a few minutes of this labored presentation, Jared Kushner, who is sitting next to me, appeared somewhat agitated by this and said, 'I really have no idea what you're talking about. Could you please focus a bit more and maybe just start again?'" Goldstone said.

"And I recall that she began the presentation exactly where she had begun it last time, almost word for word, which seemed, by his body language, to infuriate him even more."

Even though the Trump camp said the meeting was pointless, efforts were made to set up another one with Veselnitskaya after the election, during the presidential transition, according to the committee documents.

Kaveladze, the Agalarovs' U.S.-based associate, testified that they asked him to arrange a date for Veselnitskaya to see the "Trump people," with Goldstone once again acting as the go-between.

The promoter fretted that Veselnitskaya wanted to give the same exact presentation but passed on the request to Trump's team. It never happened.

Image: British publicist Rob Goldstone arrives at a closed door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee
British publicist Rob Goldstone arrives at a closed door meeting with House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 18, 2017. The committee is meeting with Goldstone for its ongoing investigation into Russian's interference in the 2016 election.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Goldstone and Kaveladze also testified about two attempts to set up a meeting between the senior Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The first try occurred when Trump went to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Then, in 2015, Trump was invited to the elder Agalarov's 60th birthday party in Moscow. Trump employee Rhona Graff responded to Goldstone that she doubted the candidate could make it, to which Goldstone responded that Trump might "welcome a meeting with President Putin, which Emin would set up."

The committee previously released testimony from Veselnitskaya, who has also given extensive interviews to NBC News, and from Glenn Simpson, the founder of research firm Fusion GPS, who worked with Veselnitskaya on Magnitsky act matters and who also commissioned the infamous dossier that detailed Trump's alleged Russian links.

Ken Dilanian, Garrett Haake, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Rebecca Shabad reported from Washington, and Tom Winter, Tracy Connor, Rich Gardella, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Courtney McGee, Anna Schecter and Kenzi Abou-Sabe, Noah Levy and Benjamin Pu reported from New York.