Donald Trump Jr. (Getty/Scott Olson)

Donald Trump Jr. strikes a deal to testify before Senate Intelligence Committee in wake of subpoena

The president's eldest son will be interviewed behind closed doors for up to four hours next month


Shira Tarlo
May 15, 2019 2:30PM (UTC)

Donald Trump Jr. and the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly reached a deal Tuesday for the president's eldest son to return for an interview in the coming weeks, an agreement which caps off a tense standoff dividing Republicans in the upper chamber over the past week.

Don Jr. will be interviewed behind closed doors for up to four hours, multiple news outlets reported, complying with a subpoena from Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., who came under intense scrutiny from some members of his own party for demanding the testimony of the president's eldest son.

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He is reportedly set to appear in mid-June, and the questioning will be limited to six topics. The agreement came together at the last minute, according to multiple reports.

The committee subpoenaed Don Jr. to testify about his communications with Russian officials last week after he backed out of two scheduled interviews. The interviews are part of the panel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump Jr. is the first known member of the president's immediate family to have been subpoenaed in congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Reuters first reported last week that senators want to question Don Jr. about the testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017, which was apparently contradicted by Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer who started his prison sentence last week in part for lying to Congress.

At the time, Don Jr. told lawmakers he was only "peripherally aware" of plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but Cohen told lawmakers in February that the president's son was far more involved in the development proposal. Cohen claimed that he briefed Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, the president's elder daughter, "approximately 10" times about the project.

Don Jr. privately testified before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in 2017. His decision to be interviewed again comes after a backlash from his father, President Donald Trump, and top Republicans over Burr's decision to issue a subpoena to the first son following the completion of special counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Moscow. Mueller did not overturn evidence of collusion between Team Trump and Russia.

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Other Republicans called Burr's subpoena inappropriate, since Trump Jr. had already testified before congressional panels. The committee's ability to hold him in contempt of Congress for not complying with the subpoena also likely affected Trump Jr.'s decision to take questions from the panel.

Trump on Tuesday called the treatment of his eldest son "very unfair."

"It's really a tough situation, because my son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that [special counsel Robert] Mueller said was 100 percent OK," Trump 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."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed support for Burr's decision Tuesday, suggesting the panel's chairman would be able to continue his investigation.

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"None of us tell Chairman Burr how to run his committee," McConnell told reporters. "I asked him to undertake this investigation with Russian collusion a couple of years ago. He's indicated publicly that he believes they will find no collusion."

The debate over another round of testimony from Don Jr. had appeared to unleash a frenzy in the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Monday took the highly unusual step of urging the president's eldest son to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions from Senate Intelligence Committee if he complies with its subpoena.

Graham, a staunch ally of the president who is up for re-election next year, told Fox News a day prior that Trump Jr. should simply ignore his colleague's subpoena and "call it a day."

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The senator's comments were an extraordinary exhibit of one Republican Senate committee chairman undercutting another by offering free legal advice to a witness, who might have previously offered false testimony to Congress, about how to undermine an ongoing congressional investigation.

Several other Republicans also lashed out at Burr over the subpoena issued to the president's eldest son. The criticism was especially fierce from Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2020, including Graham, Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas.

"The Mueller Report cleared @DonaldJTrumpJr and he's already spent 27 hours testifying before Congress," Tillis tweeted last week. "Dems have made it clear this is all about politics. It's time to move on & start focusing on issues that matter to Americans."

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Cornyn, who is on the intelligence panel, said, "At some point, this is not about finding the facts. This smacks of politics. I think we have an important job to do to try to keep the Intelligence Committee out of politics."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, declared that the "Russia investigation is over" and added that there was no need to subpoena Don Jr.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel, noted last week that the committee had been clear that it reserves the "right to bring witnesses back if we have additional questions or there’s inconsistencies."

Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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