Trump Jr. tells panel Russian meeting had to do with Clinton's 'fitness' for office

The president's son said he agreed to meet a Russian attorney last year to see if she had damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
By Allen Cone and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Sept. 7, 2017 at 3:51 PM
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Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Thursday that he planned to speak to his lawyers about the propriety of a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer if it yielded any damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. met privately with the committee to answer questions about the Manhattan meeting last year, when he worked for President Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Senators had sought to interview the president's son publicly in July but he instead offered to be privately interviewed and provide documents.

In a prepared statement obtained by The New York Times, Trump Jr. said he initially had reservations about the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer whom was described to him as a "Russian government attorney."

"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," Trump Jr. said, according to the statement. "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.'s interview with the panel Thursday was conducted largely by committee staff, though members of the committee, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sat in on the meeting.

Blumenthal told CNN that Trump Jr.'s interview did not put his concerns to rest, and instead opened up new lines of questioning.

"There are penalties if he lies, and he presumably is aware that he is testifying with very severe penalties if he fails to tell the truth, so we presume he will," Blumenthal told reporters before the meeting.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNN there hasn't been a decision on whether Trump Jr. will have to testify in a public hearing. He said that decision would be made after the Thursday meeting and after he consulted with ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Another Senate panel, the intelligence committee, is also weighing an interview with Trump Jr. Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner, D-Ind., met Wednesday and determined they would like to talk to other people involved in the Trump Tower meeting before questioning Trump Jr.

The president's son has acknowledged he met with Veselnitskaya -- who, he was told, had damaging information about Clinton that could help his father's presidential campaign. He released emails this summer that showed it was "part of Russia and its government's support for [President Donald] Trump."

Also attending the meeting were Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Kushner and Manafort have already been interviewed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating Russian election meddling and any ties to Trump's campaign, but the judiciary panel wants to investigate whether any federal criminal statutes that ban solicitation from foreign nationals were violated.

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