The Russia Connection

What's Important in the Senate Judiciary Committee Transcripts

By Quinta Jurecic
Friday, May 18, 2018, 10:20 AM

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a batch of transcripts and materials collected from nine witnesses whom the committee interviewed over the course of its investigation into Russian election interference—specifically, its investigation into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump, Jr. attended hoping for compromising information on Hillary Clinton.

But though the document dump takes up thousands of pages, the signal-to-noise ratio is low. The documents contain details fleshing out what was already in the public record about the Trump Tower meeting and the White House’s efforts to throw the press off the scent. And those details are damning in the same way that the Trump Tower story was already damning: they show an effort by Russian cut-outs to establish connections with the Trump campaign and a campaign eager to take them up on their offer, if not all that adept in doing so.

We are reading through the documents and providing an account of what’s new, what’s interesting, and what adds to the public understanding of the Trump Tower meeting. Because the transcripts are long, we’re taking them one at a time, witness by witness. We’ll update this post as we work our way through the pile of material.

 

Donald Trump, Jr.

Among the exhibits published by the committee in conjunction with Donald Trump, Jr.’s testimony is the tantalizing “Exhibit 11”—15 pages of blacked-out text that, from the transcript of Trump, Jr.’s interview, appear to contain his phone records from the time period surrounding the Trump Tower meeting. While the records themselves are entirely redacted, the interview transcript hints at the story they tell.

The Democratic minority on the committee provides a useful timeline of the communications between Trump, Jr., other Trump campaign officials, Russian singer Emin Agalarov, and Agalarov’s publicist Rob Goldstone. The minority’s timeline begins after an initial email exchange between Goldstone and Trump, Jr.—as publicized by Trump, Jr. months ago—that reads as follows:

Rob Goldstone, Jun 3, 2016, at 10:36 AM:

Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best
Rob Goldstone

 

Donald Trump, Jr., Jun. 3, 2016, at 10:53am:

Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

Best,
Don

Here’s the minority timeline, which summarizes the subsequent communications fleshed out by the phone records. The minority’s timeline is on the left verbatim as released; we’ve added on the right Trump, Jr.’s responses as recorded in the transcript. The meeting was held on June 9.

June 6, 2016

 

12:40 PM Goldstone emails Trump Jr. asking when he is “free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info.”

 

3:03 PM Trump Jr. replies, “Rob could we speak now?”

 

3:37 PM Goldstone replies, “Let me track him down in Moscow.”

 

3:38 PM Trump Jr. sends Goldstone his cell phone number.

 

3:43 PM Goldstone emails Trump Jr. that Emin is on stage, “but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call.”

 

4:04 PM Emin Agalarov calls Trump Jr. Phone records reflect a 2-minute call.

Trump, Jr. says he has no memory of the phone call or of speaking to Emin. He theorizes that the call record might be displaying a missed call and a voicemail.

4:27 PM Trump Jr.’s next call is to a blocked number. Phone records reflect a 4-minute call. (Note: the transcript describes this call as from, not to, a blocked number. It is not clear whether this is an error on the minority report’s part.)

Trump, Jr. says he does not recall who the call was from or what he did between the 4:04pm and 4:31pm calls with Emin.

 

The minority notes that in an interview with the House intelligence committee, former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski testified that Donald Trump, Sr.’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.’” Trump, Jr. says he does not know whether his father, Jared Kushner, or Paul Manafort use a blocked line.

4:31 PM Trump Jr. calls Emin. Phone records reflect a 3-minute call.

Trump, Jr. says he does not recall the content of the call.

4:38 PM Trump Jr. emails Goldstone, “Rob thanks for the help.”

 

8:40 PM Trump Jr. calls a blocked number. Phone records reflect an 11-minute call.

Trump, Jr. says he does not recall who the call was with.

June 7, 2016

 

12:44 PM Emin calls Trump Jr. Phone records reflect a 2-minute call.

Trump, Jr. says he does not recall speaking with Emin, though acknowledges that “It’s possible that I did.” He theorizes that the call record might be displaying a missed call and a voicemail.

4:07 PM Trump Jr. calls Paul Manafort. Phone records reflect a 2-minute call.

Trump, Jr. tells the committee he does not remember who this phone number, identified in the transcript as having a 703 area code, belongs to. The interviewer informs him that the number belongs to Paul Manafort.

4:20 PM Goldstone emails Trump Jr., “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday. I believe you are aware of the meeting.”

 

5:16 PM Trump Jr. replies, “How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.”

 

5:19 PM Goldstone says, “Perfect” and adds that he will send the names of the meeting attendees later that day.

 

6:14 PM Trump Jr. says, “Great. It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.”

 

 

Some details on these phone calls were included in the minority report filed by House intelligence committee Democrats at the conclusion of the committee’s investigation. However, the intelligence committee minority report did not include information on the 8:40pm call on June 6 or the 12:44pm or 4:07pm calls on June 7.

What, exactly, was Trump, Jr. hoping to get out of the meeting? He sought to explain his notorious “I love it” phrasing to the committee:

Q: And in your response it says “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.” Specifically what did you love about it?

A: As I said in my statement, it was a colloquial term used to say, hey, great, thank you.

...

Q: All right, but more specifically you say "If it's what you say, I love it ." What was the “it” that you loved in that email?

A: Potential information about an opponent.

Q: Potential incriminating information on Hillary Clinton?

A: Yes.

Q: And what about the thing that says “It is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” did you also love that?

A: I don’t know. I don’t recall.

Q: Did you understand that that would be problematic?

A: 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.

At another point, Trump, Jr. is asked “what specifically [he was] interested in getting out of the meeting”:

A. I was interested in listening to information.

Q. Information on Hillary Clinton?

A. Yes.

Q. Information on Hillary Clinton that came potentially from the Russian government?

A. Again, I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen.

Q. And had the information been offered would you have accepted it? …

A. It depends on what that was and where it came from, and at that point if there was anything material I could have decided what to do and brought in counsel.

...

Q. [I]f you had gotten what you thought was additional information you would have consulted with a lawyer Did any of you consult with a lawyer in any event about this?

A. Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q. Did any of you consider talking to law enforcement about this?

A. If something would have materialized that would have merited that we would have likely done that, but there was nothing there.

Q. And in your view, what would have merited consulting with a lawyer or going to law enforcement?

A. If there was real information that could jeopardize the presidency or candidate for the presidency of the United States.

By his account, the meeting lasted about 20 or 30 minutes, “probably on the shorter end of that spectrum.” He informed the committee that he did not share any information on the meeting with his father or discuss it with him before it became public, though he “[did]n’t know” whether anyone else had. He had “no idea” what his father was referring to when Trump announced, just before the meeting, that he would soon be giving a speech on Hillary Clinton that would be “very informative and very, very interesting.”

What’s perhaps most notable about the Trump, Jr. interview is how little the witness remembers and how incurious he seems to be. He doesn’t recall Rinat Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting—despite the fact that, according to one of the other witnesses, Akhmetshin was dressed memorably in “pink jeans with ... holes on the knees, and a pink T-shirt”—or remember Akhmetshin’s name. He says he didn’t realize at the time that the Irakly Kavaledze present at the meeting was the same as the Ike Kavaledze with whom he had done business on the abortive Trump Tower Moscow project. He didn’t make any effort before the meeting to learn who would be attending or, in the case of Veselnitskaya, what the nature of her connection to the Russian government might be. He doesn’t recognize the names Sergey Lavrov (the current Russian foreign minister) or Sergey Kislyak (the former Russian ambassador to the United States)—despite describing a meeting between Kushner and Kislyak in Trump, Jr.’s own office in December 2016. He knows or remembers little about the Trump Tower project in Baku, Azerbaijan, developed with a family linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

He is also notably forgetful about the drafting of the misleading statements provided to the press by the White House after news of the Trump Tower meeting first came out. He doesn’t know when other members of the president’s team first saw the email chain with Goldstone. He recalls that his father, Hope Hicks, and his own lawyers—Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten—were involved in putting together the statements, along with an attorney of his father’s. But he doesn’t know which attorney that was: Don McGahn? Ty Cobb? Marc Kasowitz?

In fact, Trump, Jr. seems to know and remember so little that at one point, after he answers “I don’t recall” to a long sequence of questions about the hacking and leaking of John Podesta’s emails, his interviewer takes a moment to clarify just what he means:

Q: Just so we're clear, the last couple questions that you’ve answered with I don't recall, that's not something that you knew at one time but have since forgotten ... I think your answer, if I understand your correction, is that you never knew of anything like that at all; is that right?

A: That's correct.