Donald Trump Jr. told House investigators Wednesday he did not communicate directly with his father about how to respond to a pending report about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 in Trump Tower, according to a report by CNN.
Trump Jr. said, instead, he spoke to White House aide Hope Hicks about how to respond to the reports, who later spoke to the president aboard Air Force One. Trump was reportedly debating between a longer statement and a shorter statement.
CNN’s reporting echoes what the Washington Post reported months ago, on July 31, 2017. That report said that the president had dictated a response to Hicks aboard Air Force One on July 8, for a New York Times story that was to be published the next day. Trump Jr. was not on the flight, but he had spoken to Hicks earlier, according to the report.
Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony that he never spoke with his father about the meeting could distance the president from involvement in any alleged coverup. Trump critics argue that the president’s personal intervention was a cover up, and an “obstruction of justice.”
Trump’s dictated statement said Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer primarily discussed the adoption of Russian children. Russian President Vladimir Putin had cut off adoption of children by Americans in retaliation for U.S. enactment of the Magnitsky Act, which imposed penalties for Russian banks engaged in corruption. The Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, reportedly discussed repealing the Magnitsky Act during that meeting.
But Trump critics claim that statement was misleading, since the meeting was first floated to Trump Jr. as an offer to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. This was despite Trump Jr. saying that they indeed discussed the Magnitsky Act and that the Russian lawyer did not provide any useful information, nor did he have any followup interactions with her.
On Thursday, CNN also reported that the publicist who set up the meeting had tried to follow up on the meeting, but that Trump Jr. was not involved in those efforts.
With the lack of any evidence of collusion — at least so far — more than a year after the FBI’s investigation began, Trump critics have been shifting to arguing that the president tried to obstruct justice.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were also at the Trump Tower meeting. Notably, Manafort was charged with crimes related to his lobbying work, but not collusion or conspiracy.