Just what exactly happened in that infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower? Everyone will get a chance to find out all of the juicy details, or at least those shared with the Senate Judiciary Committee during its investigation. Committee chair Chuck Grassley released 2500 pages of transcripts of closed-session testimony, a move that might raise a few questions about the status of Robert Mueller’s investigation:
The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning released testimony and documents providing new inside accounts of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides to Donald Trump and Russian emissaries promising damaging political “dirt” on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
The roughly 2,500 pages of newly released Senate interviews provide the most detailed look to date into what happened at the June 9, 2016 meeting in the offices of Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, decided earlier this year he would permit the release the 2,500 pages of transcripts, a decision welcomed by Democrats.
“Let’s get them out there for everyone to see,” Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters in January.
CNN gets the first juicy tidbit, in which Donald Trump Jr allows that his father might have had some influence on the first public statement about the meeting, which turned out to be false. However, Donald Jr told the committee that he never personally discussed it with his father because he didn’t want to entangle him in the controversy:
Donald Trump Jr testified that he never spoke to his father about his July 8th statement https://t.co/o970RbkBvI
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) May 16, 2018
Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input?
A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks
Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?
A. I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.
Q. Did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement?
A. No . She asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn’t want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with.
Juicy? A little, perhaps, as the White House has tried to paint that process as entirely between the attorneys, but it’s not a smoking gun in any significant sense. The Washington Post’s coverage suggests that the rest of the testimony won’t provide any real fireworks or new revelations either. In fact, Democrats complained while assenting to the release of the transcripts that Republicans didn’t want to ask too many tough questions:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said she supports the release of the interview transcripts, but panel Democrats contend Republicans did not push witnesses to answer all key questions and are preparing to end their inquiry prematurely.
In a statement, committee Democrats said the Trump Tower meeting was “one piece of a much larger puzzle and confirms that the Trump campaign was willing to accept Russia’s assistance.”
They said there are “more questions that answers given the lack of cooperation by many of the individuals involved” and pressed for their committee’s investigation to continue[.]
We’ll see more nuggets as the day and week rolls along. The entire archive can be found here, separated out by witness, so readers can get ahead of the media. Natalia Veselnitskaya’s testimony came in the form of written responses to a questionnaire, which is a marvel of two sides talking past each other. The committee mostly focused on Russians, while Veselnitskaya mostly focused on Hermitage Capital owner William Browder, the man she accused of being the “architect” of a new cold war between Russia and the US thanks to his activism in passing the Magnitsky Act. Expect more than a few through-the-looking-glass moments when parsing out her testimony, and perhaps that of others.
However, the release itself raises another question. Robert Mueller’s probe is going over the same turf, especially in regard to potential Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. Did Mueller sign off on this release? If he did, has he concluded his own investigation of Russian collusion? One key point in conducting parallel probes is not to have one investigation tip off potential witnesses to what others have told investigators. If Mueller is still working these angles and looking for witnesses, this release creates all sorts of headaches for the special counsel. If Mueller doesn’t care about this testimony becoming public, though, it suggests that the Trump Tower meeting doesn’t matter to the Russian-collusion track — and without the Trump Tower meeting, that track seems pretty narrow.