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Trump Jr.’s team wanted stories straight on Russian lawyer meeting

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower including Donald Trump Jr. was billed as an opportunity for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

The details were part of more than 2,500 pages of documents based on interviews with attendees of the meeting between Trump aides and a Russian attorney.

Updated

Attorneys for Donald Trump Jr. sought to coordinate public statements for attendees of a June 2016 meeting between a Kremlin-connected lawyer and top Trump campaign aides after news broke of the controversial sit-down, according to transcripts released Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The 2016 meeting at Trump Tower — attended by Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — was billed as an opportunity for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

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But after the meeting became public last year, Trump Jr. claimed that only Russian adoption policy was discussed. And even before reporting revealed the meeting, the new transcripts show that his lawyer had begun reaching out to multiple participants to get their accounts straight regarding the day in question.

These discrepancies — and the meeting itself — have since become a key part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia on its attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Intelligence leaders believe the Kremlin was trying to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in his White House bid.

The passages revealing the work Trump Jr.’s attorney did to get attendees on the same page are part of more than 2,500 pages of transcripts and exhibits released Wednesday by the judiciary panel that stem from interviews with six attendees of the June 2016 meeting.

Here are the highlights from the massive document dump:

Trump Jr. attorney Alan Futerfas tried to harmonize accounts of the meeting: According to the documents, Futerfas contacted three participants in the meeting — publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian singer Emin Agalarov and Russian executive Ike Kaveladze — to discuss their memories of the day.

On July 10, two days after a New York Times report first revealed the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, exhibits released by the committee show that Goldstone forwarded Agalarov and Kaveladze a proposed “statement drafted by Trump lawyers which they have asked me to release.”

In his email to Goldstone proposing the statement, Futerfas wrote that “if you feel comfortable with this statement and are comfortable saying nothing more, at least for the time being, that would be our preference.”

Futerfas did not immediately return a request for comment.

It’s unclear what the president’s role was: President Trump himself is reported to have helped craft a statement about the 2016 meeting that portrayed it as dealing largely with Russian adoption laws and not campaign matters, which obscured its initial portrayal to Trump Jr. as a chance to receive dirt on Clinton. The Russian government in 2012 barred U.S. families from adopting Russian children.

Trump’s attempt to draft a news release has also drawn scrutiny from Mueller’s team.

The transcript of an interview with Trump Jr. leaves it unclear what role Trump played in drafting the statement. Trump Jr. said his father “may have commented through Hope Hicks,” then the White House communications director, and that some of those comments “may have been” included in the final statement.

“This was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel,” Trump Jr. added.

Trump Jr. has never discussed the FBI’s Russia probe with the president?: Trump Jr. told the Senate panel that he could not recall ever talking with his father about the government’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

“No, not that I remember,” he said.

The comment immediately met with skepticism from Democrats, who suggested the transcripts included misleading and contradictory statements. But Trump Jr. insisted that the release was exonerating.

“The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the Committee,” he said in a statement.

Everyone left the meeting angry: It seems no party involved in the Trump Tower gathering was happy with the outcome.

According to Goldstone, Kushner expressed frustration during the meeting with a presentation by Veselnitskaya. Goldstone described Kushner as “somewhat agitated” and “infuriate[d]” during the meeting, and he apparently asked the Kremlin-linked lawyer at one point to “focus a bit more and maybe just start again?”

Goldstone also thought things weren’t going well during the meeting, telling congressional investigators that he sent Kaveladze a WhatsApp message saying, “this is embarrassing,” and that Kaveladze nodded at him.

Sometime after the meeting, Goldstone was even more apoplectic, texting Emin Agalarov that he had “20 years of reputation basically destroyed by this dumb meeting.”

Russia investigation

No mention of hacked emails: One other major outstanding question about the get-together has been whether the attendees discussed a trove of internal documents and emails that had been stolen earlier that year from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign.

According to the transcript of an interview with Anatoli Samochornov, a onetime State Department translator who attended the Trump Tower meeting as an interpreter, no one present discussed the release of “hacked emails” to the Trump campaign.

Samochornov also said there was no discussion of the dissemination of fake news to aid the Trump campaign or the prospect of hacking voter registration systems — two tactics that intelligence agencies say were part of the Kremlin’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election. In fact, Samochornov said there was no discussion “of anything that might reasonably be considered collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.”

Trump Jr. batted away Russian adoption talk: According to Goldstone, Trump Jr. was quick to steer Veselnitskaya away from any requests made regarding an American law, the Magnitsky Act, that sanctioned Russian officials. The law had prompted the Kremlin to bar Americans from adopting Russian children.

Apparently, when Veselnitskaya made her appeal about the issue, Goldstone said Trump Jr. suggested she should address her “what seemed very valid concerns … to the Obama administration because they are actually in power.”

Trump almost met Putin in 2013: Other issues touched on in the transcripts include alleged efforts to set up an in-person meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

But, according to Goldstone, an unlikely party got in the way. “It came down to the wire,” he said, with Trump waiting to hear from the Kremlin on the day of the pageant. Eventually, a Putin spokesman relayed the message that “due to the tardiness of the King of Holland, he was unable to schedule a meeting for Mr. Trump.”

The Mooch is back: Buried deep in the exhibits is an email Anthony Scaramucci sent to Goldstone on July 23, 2017, days before he started his brief tenure as White House communications director.

“Obviously there is still pressure on all sides, but if we remain consistent and united I don’t envisage any issues we can’t ride out,” Scaramucci said to Goldstone.

Scaramucci’s words were interpreted Wednesday as a reference to the flap surrounding the meeting, which had only been revealed publicly earlier that month. But in a statement to CNBC, Scaramucci denied the characterization.

“I understand what people are trying to imply, because they are obviously after the president,” he said. They’re trying to imply that the email had something to do with Russia, but I can state declaratively that it had nothing to do with Russia because I had no involvement there.”

Democrats have already pounced: One Democrat on the judiciary panel, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, pointed to “seemingly contradictory and evasive responses that need to be resolved” — citing Trump Jr.’s interview, specifically. He pressed Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings in the committee’s Russia probe.

Blumenthal also joined every other Democrat on the committee in a joint response that noted the interviews turned up signs of dejection among the Trump allies present about the meeting’s lack of more coherent negative material on Clinton.

“The committee’s staff interviews reveal that top Trump campaign officials were frustrated and angry that the meeting did not produce enough damaging information on their opponent,” the 10 Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, wrote in their statement. “Their efforts to conceal the meeting and its true purpose are consistent with a larger pattern of false statements about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia.”

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted Grassley’s investigative efforts: “To call the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Trump-Russia investigation halfhearted is too generous.”

Steve Benjamin is pictured. | POLITICO Photo

But this might be it from the Judiciary Committee: Despite Democrats’ urgings, Grassley suggested that he has no plans to pursue further investigative avenues. In a Wednesday statement, he described the documents’ public release as a means to let the American people weigh the issue.

“These materials, taken in their entirety, provide the most complete public picture of the events surrounding the meeting to date,” Grassley said. “Americans can now review this unfiltered information and arrive at their own conclusions.”

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