WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators Thursday that he met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election to find out what information she had about Hillary Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications” for office but that nothing came of the meeting.
Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a closed-door meeting that he never colluded with the Russian government about the election, but did have legal concerns about using any information that might be provided by the attorney.
"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," he said in prepared remarks obtained by NBC News. "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. I also note that at this time there was not the focus on Russian activities that there is today."
Trump Jr. added that "the meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented."
Ahead of his appearance, Democrats on the committee said they would focus on the now infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting during Trump Jr.’s first appearance in front of a congressional panel investigating Moscow’s influence on the 2016 election.
“My worst fears, among them, are that this meeting may have been a prelude or an overture to more coordinated activities involving collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians in their interference in our election, and that after there was obstruction of justice, which is very much front and center and involves also following the money,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday.
Trump Jr.’s public defense of the meeting has changed over time, at first saying the sit-down was organized to address the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, which directs sanctions against Russia over human rights violations. But emails revealed that the Russian businessman who organized the meeting told Trump Jr. that the lawyer had incriminating information about Clinton.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. replied to the offer.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told NBC News she had no information about the Clinton campaign.
Thursday’s closed-door interview was expected to be conducted by mostly staff, though a handful of Democratic senators, including Blumenthal, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chris Coons of Delaware, were expected to attend. Though Trump Jr.’s testimony was not under oath, Blumenthal said there could be legal implications if he was not truthful.
“Think of it more like a preparation for the trial, much like a deposition, where a witness may be asked questions, and we can use his answers to potentially impeach him when he testifies at the public hearing — in other words, to contradict him,” Blumenthal said. “And so the use of the transcript, and I hope the public disclosure of it, will inform the public and enable us to conduct the hearing more effectively.”
In a statement released after the interview, however, Trump Jr. indicated he believes his more than five hours of testimony should be enough for the panel.
"I answered every question posed by the committee related to this topic, as well as of their questions on other topics, until both sides had exhausted their lines of questioning. I trust this interview fully satisfied their inquiry," Trump Jr. said.