Donald Trump Jr says he wanted Russian dirt to determine Hillary Clinton’s ‘fitness’ for office

Donald Trump Jr in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Feb\. 9, 2017.
Donald Trump Jr in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Feb\. 9, 2017.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Trump Jr (above, in a file photo) entered the Capitol under cover and did not speak with reporters.
Trump Jr (above, in a file photo) entered the Capitol under cover and did not speak with reporters.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Donald Trump Jr told Senate investigators on Thursday (Sept 7) that he set up a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer because he was intrigued that she might have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, saying it was important to learn about Clinton’s “fitness” to be president.

But nothing came of the Trump Tower meeting, he said, and he was adamant that he never colluded with the Russian government’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.

In a prepared statement during an interview with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, the younger Trump said he was initially conflicted when he heard that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, might have damaging information about Clinton.

Despite his interest, he said, he always intended to consult with his own lawyers about the propriety of using any information that Veselnitskaya, who has ties to the Kremlin, gave him at the meeting.

A copy of Trump Jr’s statement was obtained by The New York Times.

The acknowledgment by the President’s eldest son that he intended to seek legal counsel after the meeting suggests that he knew, or at least suspected, that accepting potentially damaging information about a rival campaign from a foreign country raised thorny legal issues.

“To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out,” he said.

“Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.”

Trump Jr sat down with committee investigators in the Capitol shortly before 9.30am and was expected to remain under questioning for several hours. The interview was being conducted by staff, but a handful of Democratic senators attended.

Trump Jr entered the Capitol under cover and did not speak with reporters.

The June 2016 meeting came about after the younger Trump received an e-mail from a family associate saying that potentially damaging information was being provided as part of the Russian government’s support for his father.

But in his statement on Thursday, he described his decision to agree to the meeting as the byproduct of the chaotic, seat-of-the pants campaign assembled by his father, rather than any attempt to collude with Russia.

Trump Jr has given differing accounts of his contacts last year with Russians. He told the Times in March that he never met with Russians on behalf of the campaign, a statement his lawyer has since said was meant to refer to Russian government officials.

In July, he described the Trump Tower meeting as primarily focused on the issue of Russian adoptions, before eventually acknowledging that he took the meeting because he was told Veselnitskaya had damaging information about Clinton.

But intentionally misspeaking to Congress is a crime, giving his statement on Thursday added weight.

He told investigators that working for his father’s campaign consumed his life.

“I had never worked on a campaign before and it was an exhausting, all-encompassing, life-changing experience,” he said. “Every single day I fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails and phone calls.”

He is the second person connected to the Trump campaign to tell congressional investigators that the campaign was, essentially, too inexperienced and too unfamiliar with politics to pull off a master strategy – let alone coordinate with the Russian government.

Trump Jr’s brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, painted a similar picture during an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In his statement, Trump Jr said he had some reservations about the June 2016 proposal from the meeting’s facilitator, Rob Goldstone, whom he described as a “colourful” music promoter he had come to know through the son of a Russian oligarch. Goldstone asked Trump Jr to take a meeting that would include potentially damaging information about Clinton.

“Since I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his e-mail. I had no way to gauge the reliability, credibility or accuracy of any of the things he was saying,” he said.

“As it later turned out, my scepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented.”

In an e-mail response to Goldstone, Trump Jr wrote that if the promised information about Clinton was as advertised, “I love it.”

“As much as some have made of my using the phrase ‘I love it,’ it was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture,” he said in his statement on Thursday.