Donald Trump Jr strikes deal for 'limited' interview with Senate committee

Mr Donald Trump Jr's allies allies accused the Intelligence Committee chairman of caving to Democrats by issuing a subpoena for the president's son's testimony.
Mr Donald Trump Jr's allies allies accused the Intelligence Committee chairman of caving to Democrats by issuing a subpoena for the president's son's testimony.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Donald Trump Jr. and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee reached a deal on Tuesday (May 14) for the president's eldest son to sit for a private interview with senators in the coming weeks that will be limited in time, an accord that should cool a heated intraparty standoff.

The deal came after an aggressive push by the younger Trump's allies, who accused the Intelligence Committee's chairman, Republican Senator Richard Burr of caving to Democrats by issuing a subpoena for the president's son's testimony.

They called the effort a political hit job against the White House, using the president's son as fodder.

Burr told fellow Republican senators last week that the president's son had twice agreed to voluntary interviews but had not shown up, forcing the subpoena.

The president's lawyer had prepared a blistering letter to send to the committee, telling its members that Donald Trump Jr. would not submit to open-ended questions before a panel that included multiple Democrats running for president, according to people familiar with its contents.

The lawyers had prepared to send the letter on Monday, facing a deadline to respond to the subpoena. But they received a call from committee aides, asking if there was a "reasonable" path forward, according to a person familiar with the events.

The compromise was an appearance by Trump in the middle of June, with questions limited to about a half-dozen topics, with the time no longer than two to four hours, according to a person briefed.

Another person, who would not be identified, contested that the scope of the topics had been limited. A spokeswoman for Burr declined to comment.

The move by the younger Trump's associates was straight out of his father's playbook - set the terms of the debate at the most extreme end of the discussion, then cut a deal and look gracious.

The agreement provides Burr with an off-ramp from the confrontation, as well. If the younger Trump had refused to appear, the chairman would have faced a painful choice between initiating contempt of Congress proceedings against the president's eldest son and undercutting the independence of his two-year investigation of Russian election interference by letting him defy him.

US President Donald Trump personally questioned why his son would be subpoenaed after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, had been unable to prove a conspiracy between his campaign and Russia.

Though the president has declared an all-out war against Democratic inquiries in the House, he had largely left the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation to proceed with minimal attention.

Asked about the subpoena Monday, the president said he viewed it as unfair. "It's really a tough situation because my son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that Mueller said was 100 per cent OK," he told reporters at the White House. "And now they want him to testify again. I don't know why. I have no idea why, but it seems very unfair to me."

Burr had not commented publicly on the standoff. Privately, though, he suggested to colleagues last week that the subpoena was of the younger Trump's own making. He told Republican Senate colleagues at a private lunch that Donald Trump Jr. had twice agreed - once in March and once in April - to return to the committee for a voluntary interview, only to later back out. It was only after he asked to postpone again in April that the committee authorised a subpoena to compel his appearance, Burr said.

People close to Donald Trump Jr. say his position on the committee's request had changed after the release of Mueller's report late last month. The report indicated that Mueller's investigators had considered charging the younger Trump in connection with an infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. They ultimately decided against it.

Senate investigators are interested in asking the younger Trump about that meeting, too, as well as his knowledge of a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

The younger Trump sat for an interview with committee investigators in 2017, and has met with a handful of other congressional committees for dozens of hours.

The Intelligence Committee asked him back for additional questioning this time by senators themselves, who are seeking to draw their two-year investigation into Russian election interference to a close.