USA Today (Op-Ed): Did Trump Jr. lie to the Senate? We’re about to find out
USA Today (Op-Ed): Did Trump Jr. lie to the Senate? We're about to find out
The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to testify as part of its ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Those proceedings warrant close scrutiny in light of Chairman Richard Burr’s close ties to the Trump administration and the deliberately misleading public statements he made during and after the presidential campaign to downplay Russian interference in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy.
As a member of the congressional Gang of Eight, Burr was fully briefed by U.S. intelligence officials on the Russian hacks of Democratic email servers and other attacks, but his camp downplayed them publicly.
The subpoena of Trump Jr. likely relates to a meeting he had in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with several Russians, in which Trump Jr. expected, based on prior emails, to receive from the Russians “official documents and information that would incriminate” Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Our group, Common Cause, filed complaints in July 2017 with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission alleging that, by attending this meeting to obtain opposition research on Clinton, Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign violated a federal law banning solicitation of political contributions from foreign nationals.
Trump Jr. was interviewed by Senate Judiciary Committee staff in September 2017 about the Trump Tower meeting and emails that led up to it. Trump Jr. stated that he had not told his father in advance of the meeting about the emails offering dirt on Clinton and the planned meeting with the Russians to receive that dirt.
However, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report indicates that Trump Jr. might have lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would be a crime. According to Mueller’s report: “Michael Cohen recalled being in Donald J. Trump’s office on June 6 or 7 when Trump Jr. told his father that a meeting to obtain adverse information about Clinton was going forward,” and that from the “tenor of the conversation, Cohen believed that Trump Jr. had previously discussed the meeting with his father.”
Mueller’s report states that Trump Jr.’s emails and meeting with Russians in 2016 “could implicate the federal election-law ban on contributions and donations by foreign nationals,” affirming the validity of Common Cause’s complaints. But Mueller decided not to criminally prosecute Trump Jr. because, in short, he believed Trump Jr. would successfully plead ignorance of the law. A person can only be criminally convicted of campaign finance violations with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the person acted with “knowledge of the illegality of their conduct.”
It’s no wonder that the Senate wants to question Trump Jr., again, regarding the inconsistencies between his story and Cohen’s testimony to Mueller. The Senate would be negligent not to re-question Trump Jr. And, unlike so many other subpoenas issued by Congress in recent weeks, this one can’t be blocked by the president’s assertion of executive privilege, because Donald Trump wasn’t president when these events unfolded.
It’s refreshing to see some GOP senators put country before party. Will they do so again and hold Trump Jr. in contempt when he refuses to comply with their subpoena? Or will Burr revert to his role as a Trump apologist when push comes to shove?
Paul Seamus Ryan is the vice president of policy and litigation for Common Cause. You can follow him on Twitter: @ThePaulSRyan.