- Karoun Demirjian, Rosalind S. Helderman The Washington Post
Donald Trump Jr. met behind closed doors for roughly seven hours Wednesday with the House Intelligence committee, fielding extensive questioning about contacts he had with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
Committee members queried President Donald Trump's eldest son about a June 2016 meeting he held with a Russian lawyer after he was told she would provide damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. He was also asked about his contact with WikiLeaks in October 2016, around the time the group was releasing hacked Democratic emails, according to people familiar with the session.
Trump Jr. told the committee that he had not informed his father about his meeting with the Russian lawyer at the time it took place. He also said he had not told Trump that he exchanged private messages with the WikiLeaks Twitter account, according to the people.
His day-long interview came as multiple investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election focus on members of Trump's inner circle.
Trump Jr. had met with investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, but that session took place before prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller III filed criminal charges against former Trump advisers.
His Wednesday session with the House committee was longer and more expansive, and was the first opportunity elected lawmakers have had to ask Trump Jr. questions directly, instead of leaving that to investigative staff.
Trump Jr. told the committee that he did not speak to the president directly in July 2017 as the New York Times prepared to report his meeting with the Russian lawyer for the first time. Instead, he told the committee he had communicated only with Trump communications director Hope Hicks to discuss how to respond to the Times' inquiries.
At the time, Hicks was on board Air Force One with Trump, returning home from the Group of 20 Summit in Germany.
The Washington Post has reported that the president dictated the statement Trump Jr. released that day about the meeting. The statement omitted key facts about the session with the Russian lawyer, indicating it was primarily about the adoption of Russian children by American families.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday that Trump Jr. told the committee he did speak with his father about the Trump Tower meeting several days later, after emails showing he had accepted the meeting after being offered "dirt" on Clinton were made public. However, Trump Jr. declined to detail the conversation to the committee, indicating a lawyer had been present and he believed it was subject to attorney-client privilege.
"In my view there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son," Schiff said, adding he intended to follow up with Trump Jr.'s attorneys, who had "asked for more time to deliberate on the claim."
"This particular discussion revolves around a pivotal meeting," Schiff said, noting it was "a central issue that we need to fully investigate."
Trump Jr. also told the committee he had been unaware that national security adviser-designate Michael Flynn had discussed sanctions during phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. At the time, Trump Jr. served on the transition team's executive committee.
Flynn last week pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Kislyak.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who is leading the House investigation, told reporters after the session concluded that Trump Jr. had answered all of the committee's questions.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Jr., declined to comment.
While the 39-year-old held no official role with his father's campaign, he was closely involved in internal discussions and served as a prominent surrogate for Trump.
Trump Jr. also interacted at least twice with Russians who had showed interest in Trump's campaign - encounters that are of keen interest to investigators.
In addition to the June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. also exchanged greetings at a dinner during a May 2016 National Rifle Association convention with a former Russian senator named Alexander Torshin, who is now the deputy head of the Central Bank of Russia.
Trump Jr. told the committee he had been introduced to Torshin by a friend, but said he could not recall which one.
Since the election, Trump Jr. has been helping run the Trump Organization in his father's absence, while also traveling the country delivering paid speeches.
He has reacted to the scrutiny of his Russian contacts with defiance, taunting critics online. "Keep coming at me guys!!!" he wrote on Instagram after his messages with WikiLeaks became public, declaring the handful of notes to be "nothing burgers" advanced as part of a "false narrative."