By Jeremy Herb
Thousands of pages of interview transcripts with the participants of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting shed new light on how eager Donald Trump Jr. and senior members of the Trump campaign were to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton — and how frustrated and angry they were that the material did not come to fruition.
The nearly 2,000 pages of interviews do not appear to contain information that would change the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s team and Russia. But the transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee fill in new details about how Trump Jr., President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were expecting a bombshell from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who arranged the Trump Tower meeting, told the committee he was anticipating a “smoking gun” from Veselnitskaya when he urged Trump Jr. to take the meeting, even though he thought it was a “bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it.”
“I just sent somebody an email that says I’m setting up a meeting for someone that is going to bring you damaging information about somebody who was running to become the President of the United States,” Goldstone said. “I thought that was worthy of the words ‘smoking gun,’ yes.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s release Wednesday of the Trump Tower transcripts and hundreds of pages of exhibits provide the most comprehensive view yet into the circumstances surrounding the controversial meeting and the details of the roughly 20-minute encounter, in which Trump’s team was expecting dirt from Veselnitskaya.
The meeting — and whether President Trump knew about it — has become a central focus of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as the congressional Russia investigations. Trump Jr. has told House investigators that he did not communicate with his father about the meeting before it happened. The White House has said the President weighed in on a misleading statement his son issued after the meeting became publicly known, more than a year later.
Trump Jr. — who had emailed Goldstone ahead of the meeting about the dirt, “if it’s what you say I love it” — told congressional investigators he was interested in “listening to information” about Clinton in the June Trump Tower meeting. “I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen,” he said.
Trump Jr. also said he did not inform his father about the meeting ahead of time, because he didn’t want to bring him “unsubstantiated” information.
And when the damaging information didn’t materialize, as Veselnitskaya focused on US sanctions on Russia under the Magnitsky Act that the US passed to punish Russian human rights abuses, the testimony gives new insight into how Trump’s team reacted.
“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 of Kushner, who was not interviewed by the committee. “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.”
But there is also discrepancy between the meeting participants about how long Kushner was present. While Kushner and Trump Jr. have said the now-White House senior adviser left in the middle of the meeting, others who were there told the committee they remembered Kushner staying the whole time.
The committee on Wednesday released transcripts and hundreds of pages of related material from nine people connected to the meeting. The documents contain a record of closed-door committee interviews with five of the eight meeting attendees, including Trump Jr., Goldstone, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, translator Anatoli Samochornov and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian with ties to oligarch Aras Agalarov.
Following the documents’ release, Trump Jr. said the transcripts show he “answered every question asked.”
“I appreciate the opportunity to have assisted the Judiciary Committee in its inquiry,” Trump Jr. said in a statement, “The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the Committee. I once again thank Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, as well as other members of the Committee and their staff for their courtesy and professionalism.”
The committee’s documents also included responses from Veselnitskaya, as well as a statement from Kushner and a page of notes from Manafort. The committee also included the formal release of the transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, who was not at the Trump Tower meeting but whose transcript was unilaterally released in January by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
In January, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he planned to release the transcripts because the committee’s interviews connected to the Trump Tower meetings had wrapped up. Democrats had pressed Grassley to subpoena Kushner for his testimony or schedule a public hearing for Trump Jr., but he chose not to do so following Feinstein’s decision to release the Simpson transcript.
This story has been updated and will continue to update with new developments.
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