Democrat: Trump Jr. avoids questions about talks with father

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. refused to tell lawmakers about conversations he had with his father regarding a controversial 2016 Trump Tower meeting after emails detailing the meeting had become public, according to the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

Trump Jr. spoke to the committee behind closed doors on Wednesday as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump Jr. said he didn’t tell the president about the meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians when it happened and he declined to elaborate on what he ultimately told him after the meeting became public.

California Rep. Adam Schiff said that Trump Jr. said he couldn’t speak about the conversations with his father because of attorney-client privilege, telling the committee a lawyer was present when he spoke to his father about the June 2016 meeting and the emails that led up to it.

The Trump Tower meeting is a matter of keen interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is also investigating the meddling and whether there was any obstruction of justice. Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, attended the meeting with several Russian operatives under the impression that they might receive damaging information about the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Mueller is also interested in the White House response to the meeting once it became public. The White House has said the president was involved in drafting an early statement saying the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, but emails later released by Trump Jr. showed that he enthusiastically agreed to the sit-down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others after he was promised dirt on his father’s rival. Trump Jr. later said the promised material never materialized.

Trump Jr. said during Wednesday’s eight-hour interview that he spoke with President Donald Trump’s communications aide Hope Hicks as early reports of the meeting emerged, according to one person familiar with the interview. The New York Times was first to report the existence of the meeting, and Trump Jr. eventually released the emails detailing the planning for it.

Hicks was with the president on Air Force One while they were writing the statement that said the meeting primarily concerned the adoption program.

Trump Jr. also told the intelligence panel that he didn’t tell his father about the 2016 meeting at the time that it happened, according to the person familiar with his interview. The person was not authorized to speak about the testimony and asked not to be identified.

Both the House and the Senate intelligence committees have been interested in the Trump Tower meeting and have interviewed several participants. The Senate Judiciary Committee is also investigating the meeting, and interviewed Trump Jr. behind closed doors in September.

In that interview, Trump Jr. cast the 2016 meeting as simply an opportunity to learn about Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications,” insisting to investigators that he did not collude with Russia to hurt Clinton’s campaign.

The Senate intelligence committee also hopes to interview Trump Jr. before the end of the year.

Kushner has spoken to both intelligence committees. The panels have also interviewed Ike Kaveladze, who was at the meeting as a representative of a Russian developer who once partnered with Trump to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist. A translator who was in attendance has also spoken to congressional investigators.

Lawmakers were also expected to ask Trump Jr. about his communications with WikiLeaks during and after the campaign. Trump Jr. released messages last month that showed him responding to the WikiLeaks’ Twitter account three times, at one point agreeing to “ask around” about a political action committee WikiLeaks had mentioned. He also asked the site about a rumor about an upcoming leak, and tweeted a link that the account sent him.

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