Friday February 22nd, 2019 3:22AM

Trump Jr: Can't recall discussing Russia probe with father

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. struck an unapologetic tone during hours of congressional questioning last year, saying he didn't think there was anything wrong with meeting a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 presidential election or that the get-together might have been part of a Russian government effort to aid his father, according to transcripts released Wednesday

The president's eldest son also deflected multiple questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, responding to dozens of queries by saying he could not recall.

The committee released more than 1,800 pages of transcripts of interviews with Trump Jr. and others who attended a June 9, 2016, meeting at which they expected to receive dirt about Trump's opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee said it stands behind a 2017 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said in a statement that his staff had spent 14 months "reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions."

The Judiciary Committee transcripts reveal new details about how the Trump Tower meeting — central to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential collusion between Trump aides and the Kremlin — came to be arranged and efforts afterward to mitigate the political damage arising from its disclosure.

The transcripts show the dissatisfaction of Trump Jr. and other campaign aides, including brother-in-law Jared Kushner, when the meeting failed to yield the harmful Clinton information they thought they'd get — as well as the increasing panic of one of the meeting participants who feared his reputation would be ruined by his role in having set it up.

In addition, the transcripts reflect an aggressive Russian outreach to Trump both before and after the June 2016 meeting, including an effort to arrange a follow-up get-together that November with members of his transition team. One year earlier, Trump was invited to the 60th birthday party of a friend in Moscow at which the opportunity to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin was dangled.

Trump Jr. answered "No, I don't recall" when asked if he had spoken with his father about the Russia investigation, and he could not recall if he had spoken with him the day the Trump Tower meeting was arranged. But he insisted he had never discussed the meeting with him.

Asked if he thought it was problematic to take a meeting described to him as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign, Trump Jr. said no.

"I didn't think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no."

Senate Judiciary Democrats said the transcripts are just "one piece of a much larger puzzle" and do not tell the entire story because some meeting participants were not interviewed and Republican committee chairman Chuck Grassley did not subpoena them to compel their appearance.

Though the witnesses were not under oath, they were nonetheless required to tell Congress the truth.

In addition to Trump Jr., the committee interviewed four other people who attended the meeting in New York — publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting with the promise of dirt on Clinton; Rinat Akhmetshin, a prominent Russian-American lobbyist; Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer, and a translator.

The committee did not interview Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the center of the meeting. But the panel released her written responses to a letter that Grassley sent her.

The panel was also not able to interview Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, or Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, though both attended.

The committee did release one page of notes that Manafort took during the meeting.

His notes mention "Russian adoption by American families" and Bill Browder, a British citizen who has spearheaded a U.S. sanctions law —known as the Magnitsky Act— that targets Russian officials over human rights abuses. The relatively cryptic notes appear to track with some of the details contained in a presentation that Veselnitskaya has given in an attempt to undermine the sanctions law.

Manafort's notes also contain references to "tied into Cheney" and "active sponsors of RNC" without any further explanation.

Mueller has brought several unrelated charges against Manafort, including money-laundering conspiracy, false statements and acting as an unregistered foreign agent related to Ukrainian political work.

The special counsel is investigating the Russian meddling in the election, whether Trump's campaign was involved and possible obstruction of justice. The New York meeting and the administration's initial response to reports of it have been a focus of the probe.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting an initial statement after news of the meeting broke last year.

That statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though Trump Jr. later released the emails showing he agreed to the sit-down after he was promised information on Clinton. The emails also show he accepted the meeting despite it being described as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign.

Asked in the interview if his father was involved in drafting the statement, Trump said: "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it."

The transcripts provide a timeline of the days leading up to the meeting as well as misgivings about the appropriateness of a Russian lawyer meeting with a U.S. presidential campaign.

Music publicist Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the request of Azerbaijani-Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, said he thought the meeting was a "bad idea."

"I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn't do it. And I gave the reason for that being that I'm a music publicist. Politics, I knew nothing about," Goldstone said, adding that neither did Emin Agalarov nor his father, Aras.

The Agalarovs had bonded with the Trumps during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Like Trump Jr. and Kushner, who released a public statement about the meeting last year, Goldstone said the meeting was disappointing. He said he reported back to Emin Agalarov that "this was the most embarrassing thing you've ever asked me to do. I've just sat in a meeting about adoption."

In a series of increasingly panicked messages to Emin Agalarov, which were released alongside the testimony, Goldstone said his career was imploding. He said he desperately needed a lawyer, wanted to speak publicly about the case but couldn't because the Trump lawyers wouldn't let him and was hoping to be compensated by the Agalarovs for his troubles.

"I work in music and it's FULL of Liberals and I am seen as some weird link to the kremlin. Have you been watching the news!" Goldstone wrote. "And because I am not able to respond out of courtesy to you and your father. So am painted as some mysterious link to Putin."

Agalarov responded: "That should give you mega PR."


Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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