The Senate committee spoke to participants of a 2016 Trump Tower meeting
The judiciary panel has wrapped up its interviews into those meeting attendees
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Thursday he wants to release the transcript of the committee’s closed-door interview with Donald Trump Jr., joining Democrats on the committee who have pressed to make it public.
Grassley said he will now move to release all of the panel’s interviews involving the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump Jr., the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“Let the public have access to it,” he said of the transcripts.
But Grassley also said the committee has given up in its efforts to speak with Kushner, saying that he would not be testifying before the panel.
Grassley blamed the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, saying her decision to unilaterally release the interview transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson had “spooked” any additional witnesses.
“He’s spooked by the release, the unilateral release by other people of what transcripts are out there,” Grassley said.
Simpson also called on Congress to release the transcript in advance of Feinstein releasing it.
Asked why the committee wouldn’t subpoena Kushner, Grassley said the President’s son-in-law has already spoken to a separate committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee. The comment surprised some Democrats given that committees rarely defer key witnesses to other panels.
But with the committee’s Trump Tower interviews wrapped up, Grassley said he would move to release the transcripts “as soon as possible.” Grassley said they will be redacted before they were released, and he was unsure about the timing.
Feinstein responded that she was “delighted” by Grassley’s comments.
“I’m very grateful for your decision to proceed,” she said after Grassley’s statement at a committee hearing Thursday. “I think that’s very helpful.”
Some Democrats on the committee felt that Grassley did not go far enough.
“I strongly support this step, but it must be followed by testimony in public and under oath by these witnesses and others,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement, calling on Grassley to subpoena Kushner and Trump Jr.
Feinstein said she still wanted a public hearing with Don Jr., though she was deferential to Grassley.
“Yes, but the chairman is the chairman and that’s fine with me,” she said when asked about a public hearing.
Grassley, however, told reporters Thursday that he did not expect to hold public hearings so long as the closed-door interview transcripts are released as he intends.
Grassley’s call to release the transcripts comes one day after two of the committee’s Democrats, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, wrote a letter to the chairman pressing for the committee to share its transcripts with special counsel Robert Mueller.
The committee’s Russia investigation has not been immune from the partisan fight over Russia that’s being fought all over the Capitol, as Democrats fumed when Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a classified criminal referral to the Justice Department for the author of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia, suggesting ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele may have made false statements to federal investigators.
Feinstein then released the Fusion GPS transcript less than a week later, without Grassley’s consent.
In their letter, Whitehouse and Blumenthal referenced the criminal referral of Steele and suggested that the committee’s interview transcripts contained false statements that would be of interest to Mueller.
“The transcript of congressional testimony may reveal other, and better-founded, concerns about witness false statements,” they wrote.
The push for releasing a transcript of Trump Jr.’s interview comes as congressional Republicans have put their Russia focus on alleged misdeed at the FBI, from the House Intelligence Committee alleging surveillance law abuses in a classified memo to the latest batch of text messages between two senior FBI officials, including one removed from Mueller’s team over anti-Trump texts.
Democrats say that the focus on the FBI is a Republican attempt to distract from the investigations into possible collusion between Trump’s team and Russian officials, and to discredit Mueller’s probe.
Trump Jr. testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September after the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was revealed. Ahead of the meeting, Trump Jr. had emailed with British publicist Rob Goldstone, who told Trump’s eldest son that the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had dirt on Hillary Clinton. “If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.
Trump Jr. and other meeting participants denied any damaging information was provided, and said Veselnitskaya focused on US sanctions against Russia at the meeting.
The Senate Judiciary Committee said it has interviewed five participants in the meeting, including Goldstone and the three Russians who attended the meeting. The committee also received a written response to questions from Veselnistkaya it also intends to release.
In lieu of talking to Kushner himself, Grassley noted that both Kushner and Manafort spoke with the Senate Intelligence Committee last year. Grassley said that he had reviewed the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Manafort transcript and now hoped to do the same for Kushner. Feinstein already has access to them as a member of the intelligence panel.