Dispatch May 10, 2019

Did Donald Trump Jr. Lie to Congress?

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s subpoena—approved by Republican Senator Richard Burr—for Donald Trump Jr. to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee marks the first known instance of Congress subpoenaing one of the president’s children. What seems entirely possible is that Trump Jr. lied to Congress when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 7, 2017. And among the questions that remain unanswered: Why didn’t Mueller interview Trump Jr.?

In his “Perjury Chart” of Trump associates’ apparent lies to Congress, Ryan Goodman of Just Security identified four subjects about which he believes Trump Jr. may have made false statements to Congress. (A statement released to press by a “person close to Trump Jr.” falsely states that Mueller “cleared” Trump.)

Trump Jr. may have lied to Congress about the extent of his involvement in efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign.

  • Asked about his involvement in the Trump Organization’s development deal, Trump Jr. said he was “peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few weeks.” He also suggested that, to his knowledge, the project was limited to 2015.
  • Michael Cohen directly contradicted Trump Jr.’s account in his February 2017 testimony to Congress, in which he said he had briefed Trump Jr. on the project several times. (Through his lawyer, Trump Jr. has denied that the statements contradict each other.)
  • Reporting in The Wall Street Journal also indicates that “investigators obtained emails about the project from late 2015 and January 2016 … in which Mr. Cohen communicated with or copied Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, both of whom were executives at the Trump Organization.” (Through his lawyer, Trump Jr. has denied that the statements contradict each other.)

Trump Jr. may have lied to Congress about whether there was any “follow-up” to the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower.

  • Asked whether any attendee “request[ed] additional meetings or communications with you or any member of the Trump campaign,” Trump Jr. said that they hadn’t, and that there was, in his view, “no follow-up at all from this meeting.”
  • Emails obtained and published by the Senate Intelligence Committee directly contradict this statement, clearly showing multiple follow-up emails from attendees of the meeting. This includes one in which Rob Goldstone, who set up and attended the meeting, emailed Trump Jr. and Trump’s social-media coordinator Dan Scavino with the explicit purpose of following up on a conversation that had occurred at the June 9 meeting.

Trump Jr. may have lied about whether he gave his father advance warning of the June 9 meeting.

  • During the hearing, Trump Jr. was asked if he had “inform[ed] his father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting.” He responded that he hadn’t, and that his father hadn’t been “aware” of the meeting until The New York Times reported on it in July 2017. (Trump has repeatedly claimed he had no prior knowledge of the June 9 meeting, including in his written replies to questions from Mueller.)
  • At least three former Trump campaign officials have previously contradicted this statement:
    • Trump’s former campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who reportedly told the author Michael Wolff that “the chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero” (Bannon has acknowledged that he made the remark, but claims he was misinterpreted);
    • Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, who told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he believes Trump knew about the meeting in advance, and that he doesn’t understand why Trump has claimed not to;
    • And Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and campaign surrogate, who told Congress that, in early June 2016 before the meeting took place, he had been in Trump’s office when Trump Jr. entered and whispered to his father, “The meeting is all set.” (Trump has said that Cohen lied in his testimony, as has Trump Jr.)
  • Those accounts also comport with insider assessments of both the Trump campaign and Trump Organization, which often emphasize that very little took place without Trump’s knowledge and consent.

Trump Jr. may have lied about whether any foreign governments or individuals from countries other than Russia had offered their assistance to the Trump campaign.

  • During the hearing, Trump Jr. was repeatedly asked whether the Trump campaign had received any offers of assistance from foreign governments other than Russia, or from any foreign national from a country other than Russia. He repeatedly denied having known of any such offers.
  • However, according to subsequent reporting by The New York Times, Trump Jr. not only knew of but attended a meeting during the campaign with George Nader, who has previously lobbied on behalf of Middle Eastern governments. Nader reportedly told Trump Jr. that “the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president.” (Through his lawyer, Trump Jr. has acknowledged that this meeting took place.)
  • At that same meeting, Joel Zamel, an Israeli social-media specialist, reportedly pitched Trump Jr. on strategies his company Psy-Group employs to “give an edge to a political campaign,” including “a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.” Zamel’s lawyer has denied that Zamel acted on the Trump campaign’s behalf, but has not disputed that the meeting occurred.

Why Mueller never interviewed Donald Trump Jr. is a huge outstanding question.

  • Given the possibility that Trump Jr. misled Congress, it is unclear why Special Counsel Robert Mueller chose not to pursue him the way he did other Trump associates, such as Roger Stone and Michael Cohen.
  • Mueller’s report may offer a clue as to why that is, noting that “The Office spoke to every participant [at the June 9 meeting] except Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., the latter of whom declined to be voluntarily interviewed by the Office”; the subsequent passage is redacted due to grand jury secrecy.

It’s possible that Trump Jr. is one of the 14 criminal referrals Mueller included at the end of his report. But it’s also possible that Mueller chose not to interview, indict, or even subpoena Trump Jr. because that might have crossed another Trump “red line.” The person best able to clear this up is Mueller, which is why he absolutely must appear before Congress.