President Donald Trump said Thursday he was “very surprised” the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had subpoenaed his son, Donald Trump Jr., to testify before the panel.
Speaking at the White House, Trump also spoke at length about Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in June 2016. Trump noted Veselnitskaya worked at the time of the meeting with Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the infamous Steele dossier.
He defended his son against the Senate subpoena, noting both Richard Burr, the committee chairman, and special counsel Robert Mueller had not found evidence of collusion involving Trump Jr. or anyone else on the Trump campaign.
“I saw Richard Burr saying there was no collusion two or three weeks ago,” Trump said at the White House event.
“I was very surprised to see my son, my son’s a very good person, works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, D.C.,” Trump added.
The committee reportedly wants to ask Trump Jr. about his previous testimony regarding the Trump Organization’s negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump Jr. has also faced intense scrutiny over a meeting he accepted at Trump Tower in New York City in June 2016 with a group of Russians who claimed to have information on Hillary Clinton’s activities in Russia.
“If it is what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. said in accepting the offer.
The meeting took place June 9, 2016, but all of the participants interviewed by the special counsel’s office said it was a waste of time. They said Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, provided no information about Clinton.
Trump noted Veselnitskaya was working at the time with Fusion GPS and that she had met just before and just after the meeting with Fusion executive Glenn Simpson.
“She then went back to GPS Fusion , they were the ones that wrote the phony dossier. Why did she go to GPS Fusion, why did she go back?” Trump said Thursday.
Simpson, who was investigating Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Russian government, has testified to Congress that he was unaware of Veselnitskaya’s Trump Tower meeting until it was reported in 2017. He was working at the time with Veselnitskaya on an investigation aimed at undercutting the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law that is vehemently opposed by the Kremlin.
Trump also called out what he said was “fake news” surrounding claims about phone calls Trump Jr. received from unlisted phone numbers prior to the Trump Tower meeting. Some news outlets, as well as Democratic lawmakers like Adam Schiff, speculated the calls were between Trump Jr. and his father discussing the Trump Tower tryst.
But citing press reports, Trump said the phone calls were revealed to have been between Trump Jr., a real estate developer, and a NASCAR executive.
“I never knew about the meeting,” Trump reiterated.
He also noted Mueller investigated the meeting but declined prosecution.
“The Mueller report came out — that’s the Bible — the Mueller report came out and they said he did nothing wrong,” said Trump.
Trump also seemed to defend his son’s decision to accept the meeting on the grounds that he was seeking standard opposition research.
“If he did wrong then everybody standing with me,” Trump began before singling out senators standing behind him at the White House event.
The committee’s subpoena caught many Republicans off guard because of Chairman Richard Burr’s recent remarks regarding the lack of evidence his committee found regarding collusion with the Russian government.
Burr also recently downplayed Democrats’ claims Trump Jr. and other Trump associates lied to Congress. Burr told The Washington Post on Tuesday that since Mueller had access to transcripts of congressional testimony, he must have determined that Trump Jr. and other witnesses’ testimonies “weren’t criminal or they weren’t chargeable.”
Mueller indicted longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone on Jan. 24 on charges that he made false statements to the House Intelligence Committee regarding his discussions about WikiLeaks. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s probe Nov. 29, 2018, to making false statements to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees regarding his negotiations on a Trump Tower Moscow.
Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 he was “peripherally aware” of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. Cohen has claimed he briefed Trump Jr. and other members of Trump’s family about the project more than 10 times.
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