On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a slew of transcripts related to its investigation of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between the top brass of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and several Russians, including Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer.
The meeting was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a publicist for Emin Agalarov, a Russian music star and the son of billionaire Aras Agalarov, with the express purpose of sharing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It has become one of the critical moments of the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference into the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The transcripts released Wednesday provide the most detailed version of events of that day we have seen to date. (You can see them all here.)
I zeroed in on Don Jr.’s testimony – all 232 pages of it! – given that he is not only the eldest son of the President of the United States but was also Goldstone’s contact in setting up the meeting.
The 31 most important, intriguing, insightful and, occasionally, odd lines from Don Jr. are below.
1. “As will become clear, I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did.”
Don Jr. gets the big thing out of the way early on in his opening statement. To paraphrase someone else: “No collusion!”
2. “Rob was among the many individuals who would reach out from time to time to congratulate us on winning a primary or to show their support.”
It appears as though Goldstone, the music publicist, was doing what he could to get in good with the Trumps – making sure Don Jr. and even Don Sr. knew he was following the presidential race closely, and that he was 100% behind Trump.
3. “In his email to me, Rob suggested that someone had official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her dealings with Russia and that the information would be very useful to the campaign.”
This isn’t new – we know that Goldstone promised “dirt” on Clinton – but it is helpful to have Don Jr. on the record about what he thought he was getting from Goldstone. The Trump Jr. argument, which he makes repeatedly later in his testimony, is that there was nothing wrong with his interest in Goldstone’s information because he believed Goldstone to be a bit of an exaggerator and wanted to know more rather than take what the publicist was saying at face value.
4. “As much as some have made of the phrase ‘I love it,’ it was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture.”
Hmmm. Trump responded to Goldstone’s email that he had “dirt” on Clinton by saying he loved it because it was a way of thanking Goldstone for the gesture, not an indication that he was excited about what the information might be? A simple “thank you” wouldn’t have sufficed?
5. “While Rob said he would send me the names of the attendees for the June 9th meeting, he never did.”
This is very important. Trump says – under oath no less! – that he had no idea who was coming to the meeting in which the dirt was promised. Yes, Goldstone said he had dirt and that it came from Russians but that was it. And, as I mentioned above, Trump Jr. argues that because he didn’t take Goldstone super-seriously he wasn’t really sure about the source of the information or the information itself.
6. “After perfunctory greetings, the lawyers began telling the group very generally something about individuals connected to Russia supporting or funding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee. It was quite difficult for me to understand what she was saying or why.”
This is the alleged “dirt.” Which Trump portrays as a total and compete nothing-burger – and simply a ruse by the Russians to get a meeting with him, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort about the Magnitsky Act.
7. “I have no recollection of documents being offered or left for us.”
This isn’t quite a “no.” So, there is a possibility the Russians – Veselnitskaya, etc. – may have left documents for the Trump team. But, Don Jr. can’t remember.
8. “Did you inform your father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting?” “No, I did not.”
Important. Trump Jr. is asked if he ever mentioned the June meeting at Trump Tower to his father. He is definitive: “I did not.”
9. “Again, I don’t remember much from the meeting because I didn’t give it much credence at the time.”
This is a tactic Don Jr. used repeatedly in his testimony – he lacks clear recollection of what happened because it was sort of a useless meeting. He thought he was getting dirt on Clinton. When it was clear – and this happened quickly – that he wasn’t, he sort of checked out mentally.
10. “[Kushner] showed up a few minutes late and left a few minutes early to take a phone call.”
Jared Kushner is all of us.
11. “Did you take any notes at the meeting?” “I didn’t, no.”
I’m not sure whether Trump’s lack of note-taking was purposeful – leave no paper trail and all that – or whether he simply didn’t think there was anything of note in the meeting. We’ll never know which it was because, well, Trump Jr. didn’t take notes.
12. “After the meeting but prior to the news of it breaking this summer, did you discuss the meeting with anyone?” “No, I did not.”
Trump Jr., according to his version of events, goes to a meeting with Russians and two top members of the campaign apparatus. But, he never speaks of the meeting – not to his father, not to the other meeting attendees – ever again.
13. “I do not know. I imagine I was talking about Russian government people, not Russian nationals, because I would have no way of knowing how many people of Russian descent that I would have met along the campaign trail every day for two and a half years.”
This is in reference to a quote Don. Jr. gave to The New York Times in March 2017. Here are the relevant lines from the story: “Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, ‘A hundred percent no.’”
The meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 would seem to contradict that claim, given that the Magnitsky Act was discussed. Trump Jr’s attempt to threat that needle is to argue that he interpreted the Times question to be in reference to official represetnatives of the Russian government – which he had no idea that anyone in the June 2016 meeting was.
14. “It did not talk about what got them into the door and I didn’t expand on it because I didn’t think it was relevant to discuss what the meeting was not actually about even if that’s what the email was.”
Don Jr.’s first statement in the wake of the revelation of the June 2016 meeting was, in retrospect, decidedly narrow and, by almost any reading, misleading in what it left out.
Here’s that statement: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
The argument he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee was that he didn’t mention why the meeting happened in the first place – to get “dirt” on Clinton – because no dirt was gotten.
15. “I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.”
Don Jr. here insists he never spoke directly to his dad about that initial statement about the Trump Tower meeting.
16. “To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input? “He may have commented through Hope Hicks.”
So. Trump Jr. and Trump didn’t speak or communicate directly about the initial statement. But, Trump Jr. leaves a BIG opening to allow for the idea that his father simply told Hicks the changes he wanted made and then she conveyed those to Trump Jr. and his lawyers.
17. “[Hope Hicks] 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.”
Maybe. But also to protect Trump from jeopardy related to being directly involved in dictating a statement about the meeting which, remember, according to Don Jr., he had zero idea about.
18. “I have one phone.”
Same. But, I was sort of surprised Don Jr. wasn’t a two- or even three-phone guy.
19. “He’s sort of a big personality, creates sort of a vacuum.”
Don Jr.’s assessment of his dad is, um, spot on.
20. “I think, especially knowing Goldstone and his personality, I imagine there was a discount factor to anything that was written.”
Again, Trump Jr. is very interested in portraying Goldstone as a sort-of loveable huckster who he never took all that seriously. Which, theoretically, explains why he wanted to verify the “dirt” Goldstone was promising before speaking to lawyers or anyone else about it.
21. “I responded in 20 minutes because if I get an email, I respond to it. If I see it, I respond.”
My inbox currently has 13,032 unopened emails. I hate myself.
22. “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.”
The key here is that Trump Jr. is fuzzy – in his telling – about exactly where the information is coming from. He says he had no reason to believe it was from any sort of official Russian channel and had even less reason to believe it was totally credible because Goldstone was sort of a cartoonish and unreliable figure.
What’s difficult to square is this line from Goldstone’s emails with Don Jr. setting up the meeting: “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.”
23. “Did you tell your father about this email?” “I did not.”
Again, Trump Jr. is totally and completely definitive that he didn’t show or tell his father about the Goldstone email setting up the June 2016 meeting.
24. “It just became pretty obvious to me that they were not representatives of the Russian government.”
It’s not clear to me how this became evident so quickly to Trump Jr. in the June 2016 meeting. But, it informs his belief, I suppose, that he was doing nothing wrong by talking to them about alleged “dirt” on Clinton.
25. “So was any information specific to Hillary Clinton provided during the meeting?” “No, there was not.”
This much-ballyhooed meeting promising negative information amounted to absolutely nothing, according to Don Jr.
26. “I think the only time I responded to them was, hey, when I am I going to receive the next leak. And they would reach out on a few occasions, sort of passing along news, hey, you may want to tweet this, this would be of interest probably with some sort of admin there.”
Don Jr. acknowledges that, yes, he was in some very limited contact with WikiLeaks – and that he reached out to them at one point asking when they were going to leak more stuff
27. “I believe it was after we had already secured – meaning after the election, but I could be mistaken. The only reason I’m aware of it is because it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.”
After working out, Trump Jr. came back to a meeting in his office between Kushner, Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. (He thinks.) He did not go into the meeting because of, well, sweat.
28. “I don’t do Snapchat, I have enough forms of of social media.”
Story of my life, Donnie J. Story of my life.
29. “Do you have a home landline?” “I believe I do, but I don’t even know the number of it.”
It’s like he’s in my head!
30. “Have you ever been told that Russia has compromising information on your father?” “No.”
No Kompromat! And, worth noting that Don Jr. also told the Senate committee that he was unaware that the Russians had any compromising information on his father or any top official in the Trump campaign.
31. “Have you and your father ever discussed the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election?” “No, not that I remember.”
This is amazing to me. President Trump is absolutely fixated on Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. But, he and his eldest son NEVER had a conversation about it! Not once!
Correction: This story incorrectly identified the committee that released the transcripts. It was the Senate Judiciary Committee.