Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father
Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday declined to tell the House Intelligence Committee details about his conversation with President Trump regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer, citing client privilege, according to the committee’s top Democrat.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is challenging Trump Jr.’s reasoning, saying Trump Jr. cannot apply attorney-client privilege and “shield” lawmakers from his conversation between father and son just because an attorney was present in the room at the time.
“He acknowledged having discussed the June 9 meeting and the emails that went into establishing that meeting after those emails became public,” Schiff said Wednesday following a closed-door meeting with Trump Jr.
“He acknowledged discussing that matter with his father, but refused to answer questions about that discussion along the basis of a attorney-client privilege. In my view there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son,” Schiff continued.
The California lawmaker said the details of such a discussion could reveal critical information, including efforts to “obstruct the investigation into the campaign’s contact with the Russians or any other misrepresentations to the public about that meeting.”
His remarks come after Trump Jr. appeared voluntarily before the House Intelligence Committee for a grueling closed-door interview that lasted eight hours while the panel peppered the president’s eldest son with questions about his Russian contacts.
Trump Jr. told lawmakers he discussed the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with his father last summer, after emails setting up the meeting with a Russian lawyer became public. The meeting, with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, is one prong of the probe into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya has a record fighting for Kremlin-backed issues.
Trump Jr. frustrated panel Democrats by refusing to answer questions related to the controversial meeting, however, the Republican lawmaker leading the Russia investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), maintained that Trump Jr. had answered “all” his questions. Other GOP lawmakers on the panel echoed that Trump Jr. cooperated with their questioning.
Democrats on the committee have repeatedly complained after panel interviews that the majority, who unilaterally have the power to issue subpoenas, have failed to press witnesses into answering questions that they want answered.
Trump Jr.’s appearance before the intelligence panel is his second interview on Capitol Hill and the latest interview of a member of the president’s trusted inner circle.
CNN reported that Trump Jr., in his testimony, said he did not directly speak with his father about his initial, misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with Veselnitskaya.
He instead talked to top White House aide Hope Hicks about crafting the statement that misleadingly claimed the Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya only talked about adoption, rather than campaign-related issues. Hicks then spoke with the president before the statement was released, according to CNN.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in August nodded to the president’s involvement in drafting the statement, saying he weighed in “as any father would.” Other Trump aides denied a Washington Post report that Trump “dictated” the statement to his son aboard Air Force One.
Trump Jr.’s statement on the meeting continued to evolve after the initial statement and he acknowledged in a statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September that he met with Veselnitskaya to discuss the “fitness” of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate after an associate promised him incriminating information on his father’s opponent.
During the Trump Jr. interview, a whistleblower’s account of the White House’s ties to Russia became public.
The unidentified whistleblower claimed Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate on Inauguration Day that sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” early into Trump’s presidency.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C), a member of the Intelligence panel and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he shared this account with the leaders of the Intelligence Committee and believes it falls into its wheelhouse — not that of his committee.
“I think [the House Intelligence Committee] is the right committee to do it. My committee is looking into the things that are in the jurisdiction of the oversight committee,” he told a scrum of reporters.
His remarks come after Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, publicly urged the Oversight chief to investigate the matter in a letter first reported by The New York Times.
Conaway would not say whether the panel has future plans to interview Flynn, maintaining that he will only share such information after the meetings take place.
Conaway also maintained that he has not had any contact with the White House, saying he is going out of his way to maintain the distance.
“I have absolutely no contact with the president at all,” he said. He then referred reporters to talk to the White House when asked if anyone at the Trump administration has attempted to contact him.
His remarks come after the chairman of the intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), stepped aside from the Russia investigation earlier this year after making a secret trip to the White House to view documents he told reporters revealed inappropriate “unmasking” of transition team officials.
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