Senate intelligence committee investigators have spoken with several Russians who attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., a sign that the matter remains a significant focus for lawmakers looking into potential coordination between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked operatives during the presidential campaign.
Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN that the panel has interviewed some of the Russians who were at that meeting, which Trump Jr. attended after being promised dirt on the Clinton campaign and being informed that the Russian government wanted his father to win the presidency. Paul Manafort, who was then the Trump campaign chairman, along with the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the meeting.
The intelligence committee has previously met with both Kushner and Manafort, but has not yet brought in Trump Jr. Burr said the committee is “sequencing” its interviews to speak with everyone else “involved in the meeting before we know exactly what we want from Don Jr.”
Burr, R-North Carolina, would not say which Russians, or how many, investigators have spoken with. Committee officials declined to comment further.
At the same time, a second Senate panel, the judiciary committee, which met privately with Trump Jr. last month, is trying to finalize plans to bring the President’s son in for a public hearing – something one committee source said could happen as soon as this month.
Eight people attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, including British music publicist Rob Goldstone, as well as four people present as part of the Russian contingent: Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, translator Anatoli Samochornov and Ike Kaveladze, who works for the Russian oligarch who initiated the meeting.
CNN reported earlier this month that Akhmetshin was added the morning of the meeting at the request of Veselnitskaya, who wanted him present because of his knowledge about the Magnitsky Act – US sanctions that Moscow wants lifted – according to an email exchange between Veselnitskaya and Goldstone.
Veselnitskaya’s talking points for the meeting obtained by CNN show her focus was on the sanctions – a matter of significant interest to the Kremlin – with only a passing mention to the Clinton campaign.
But emails leading up to the meeting between Trump Jr. and Goldstone paint a different picture.
“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,” Goldstone wrote.
“I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.
Representatives for the Russians at the Trump Tower meeting either declined or did not respond to requests to comment.
Trump Jr. has downplayed the matter. The President’s son said Veselnitskaya began the meeting by talking about “individuals connected to Russia” who were funding Clinton but she provided no details the support those claims, and the bulk of the meeting focused on the Magnitsky Act.
“To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out,” Trump Jr. said in a statement to the Senate judiciary committee.
Investigation close to finished?
The June 2016 meeting is one focus of the Senate intelligence committee probe, as lawmakers continue to search for any links between Trump associates and Russians tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some Republicans on the panel, like Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, believe the committee is close to reaching a dead end on the issue of collusion.
“The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election,” Trump said at the White House this week, as he has in many past instances. “There has been absolutely no collusion. It’s been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it because I think the American public is sick of it.”
But Democrats say there is far more to investigate – including the circumstances around the Trump Tower meeting. And the senators want to bring Kushner, along with Manafort, back to Capitol Hill for another round of questioning.
“The members of the committee have not even had a chance to talk to the vast majority of those individuals, and we could tick through those names – you know the names as well as I,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the committee, said Thursday. “We’re going to, again, let the facts take us where the truth leads.”
Burr said the committee is making progress but did not say if he agreed with Risch that the investigation is at a point of “diminishing returns.”
“The list of folks that we have to talk to is smaller than it was when we started,” Burr told CNN. “It’ll be over when we finish. And so – and so there’s no chunking of people off the list because we see a pattern as to what the final product looks like.”
He added, “We have a responsibility to check to check everybody that might have any information that’s pertinent to the areas that we’re looking at. We’re not going to stop until we’ve seen all of them.”
CNN’s Pamela Brown contributed to this report.