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Former Federal Prosecutor Dissects Donald Trump Jr.’s Statement to Congress

Unlike the prior statements of Donald J. Trump Jr., which drew criticism and may have created potential liability for him and others, his Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee appears to have been created with the assistance of counsel. Nonetheless, the prior statements limited what Trump Jr. could say here without creating contradictions that could be used against him. In this statement to Congress, the stakes are very high for Trump Jr., because lying to Congress is a federal crime. By carefully examining what he said, and what he didn’t say, we can gain insight into his legal strategy.

STATEMENT OF DONALD J. TRUMP JR.
September 7, 2017

I welcome the opportunity to share this prepared statement in an effort to set forth the sum and substance of what I know regarding a meeting I attended on June 9, 2016[1]. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet with you today and look forward to answering all of your questions. As will become clear, I did not collude[2] with any foreign government[3] and do not know of anyone who did[4].

[1] This is meant to limit the scope of his statement. He might know things about other meetings, and his failure to volunteer them in this statement will be attributed to this clause.

[2] The term “collude” has no legal significance whatsoever. What matters legally is whether he agreed to commit a crime with someone else, whether he knew about a crime and helped make it succeed, or whether he actively concealed a crime. So Trump Jr. is not denying that he committed a crime. Whether his denial is broader or more narrow than that depends on what exactly is meant by “collude” in this statement, which we don’t know.

[3] Does this include individuals who were associated with a foreign government, or who held themselves out to be? He could potentially make this statement even if he “colluded” with individuals at the Trump Tower meeting. He would simply deny they were officials of a foreign government. And the full statement scrupulously avoids any mention of the Russian government, which leaves room for him to claim they were not involved in the events in question or that he had no belief of their involvement.

[4] This doesn’t mean much, for two reasons. First, as discussed above, “colluding with a foreign government” is a vague and potentially narrow phrase. Second, just because Trump Jr. claims he knows no one who “colluded” doesn’t mean he doesn’t have knowledge that could be evidence of a crime. Criminals don’t always announce their crimes to others or reveal all parts of their crimes to others.

From 2002 to 2015, the Trump Organization and NBC Universal were co-owners of the Miss Universe pageant. Over the years, the pageant has been held in countries around the world, including Cyprus, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Mexico, Bahamas, Vietnam and Brazil. On November 9, 2013, the pageant was held at the Crocus City Hall, a concert venue in Moscow, Russia, owned by real estate developer Aras Agalarov. Though I did not attend the Miss Universe pageant, I have been to Russia on a few occasions, most recently in 2011[5].

[5] His lack of recent trips to Russia is meant to suggest that he had little interest in or connection to Russia.

Following the pageant, the Trump Organization and Mr. Agalarov’s company, Crocus Group, began preliminarily discussing potential real estate projects in Moscow. This was not the first time the Trump Organization had explored potential real estate deals in Russia[6]. As a global real estate and hotel company, with projects currently in Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Panama, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and elsewhere, prior to the election, the Trump Organization was looking to expand into new international markets – just like its competitors[7]. Ultimately, however, the company was not able to find a suitable project and has not consummated any real estate deals[8] or made other investments in Russia[9].

[6] This suggests to me that his attorneys are aware of potential deals (such as the deals discussed in recent press reports) and want to get out in front of that to appear forthcoming.  This statement appears to contradict prior public statements made by the President.  Of course, lying to the public is usually not a crime, but lying to Congress is a federal crime. It’s also worth noting that he refers to this as “not the first time” they pursued a Russian real estate deal, which suggests this wasn’t the last time either.

[7] This is meant to suggest that Russia wasn’t singled out as an area of focus by the Trump Organization and that its interest in Russia was not unlike other companies. It’s trying to create context to make the Organization’s ties to Russia seem less problematic.

[8] “Not consummated” is a carefully chosen term that means that no deal was completely finalized. His attorneys likely chose this term at least in part to carve out the President’s signing of a letter of intent to build Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign. This language also sidesteps the problematic conversations between Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Putin associate Felix Sater, which were recently reported

[9] This language is also narrow and excludes, among other things, loans from Russian banks.

On June 16, 2015, my father announced his intention to run for President of the United States. Over the next year and a half, my father campaigned tirelessly, traveling all across the country in an effort to convey his vision for the country to the American people. Though I had no prior experience in politics, my father’s message to the country inspired me, as it did millions of others. From the moment he announced his candidacy, my siblings and I worked day in and dayout to support our father. I had never worked on a campaign before[10] and it was an exhausting, all- encompassing, life-changing experience. Every single day I fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of emails and phone calls[11]. Because my father started off as the underdog, we had a very modest staff and were forced to learn as we went along[12]. Every day presented numerous challenges and required my attention to many different issues.

[10] This is meant to excuse actions that Trump Jr. took that could have violated campaign finance law. Violating those laws “knowingly” and “willfully” is a federal crime. It is also meant to suggest that his ignorance or inexperience explain why he put himself in situations that could have created legal liability or the appearance that he was engaged in wrongdoing.

[11] This is meant to suggest that Trump Jr. was so busy that this particular meeting didn’t stand out to him. It is supposed to create context that explains why he went to a meeting without considering the potentially serious implications of the meeting. And it lays the groundwork for his claim that he does not recall various details.

[12] As before, Trump Jr. is highlighting his inexperience and/or ignorance, particularly of campaign finance law but also potentially of the laws and norms governing how American presidential campaigns interact with foreign governments.

The Republican primaries began on February 1, 2016 with the Iowa caucuses. Although my father did not win Iowa, over the next several months he was fortunate to prevail in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts and many other states. Nevertheless, as of June 2016, it was still uncertain whether my father would receive the nomination for President at the Republican National Convention in mid-July. Despite overwhelming support from the American people, it was widely reported that some within the party were attempting to undermine the process in an effort to force a contested convention. While this was going on, we were also in the process of replacing our campaign manager. It was an extraordinarily intense period of time[13].

[13] As discussed above, this is meant to excuse or explain why Trump Jr. made choices that were unwise and supposedly lacked careful thought or planning.

In the midst of this maelstrom, on the morning of June 3, 2016, I received an email from Rob Goldstone. Although I had not seen him in quite some time, Rob would intermittently[14] contact me. For example, when Emin would perform in the New York area, Rob would graciously invite me to attend[15] . Similarly, after my father announced his candidacy, Rob was among the many individuals who would reach out from time to time to congratulate us on winning a primary or to show their support[16].

[14] It’s unclear what this means and seems purposely vague. Did Trump Jr. communicate with Goldstone every other day? Once a week? Once a month?

[15] This example is carefully chosen to portray Goldstone as an entertainment personality. It leaves open the possibility that there were more serious or problematic meetings with Goldstone because Trump Jr. does not state that this is a typical example.

[16] This is meant to portray Goldstone as someone who was not integrally involved in the campaign’s efforts, rather than as an insider who learned what was going on before the general public. This is inconsistent with some press reports about Goldstone’s relationship with the Trump campaign.

In his email to me Rob suggested that someone[17] had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” and that the information would be “very useful” to the campaign[18]. I was somewhat skeptical of his outreach, as I had only known Rob as Emin’s somewhat colorful music promoter who had worked with famous pop singers[19] such as Michael Jackson. Since I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email. I had no way to gauge the reliability, credibility or accuracy of any of the things he was saying[20]. As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information[21] and turned out not to be about what had been represented[22]. The meeting was instead primarily[23] focused on Russian adoptions[24], which is exactly what I said[25] over a year later in my statement of July 8, 2017.

[17] Actually, the email indicated that the individual who had this information represented the Russian government and that it was part of the Russian government’s efforts to aid the Trump campaign. The omission of that part of the email is intentional because it raises so many questions. Who did Trump Jr. think he was meeting with? What did he think that person’s connection was to the Russian government? What did he understand the Russian government’s efforts to aid the Trump campaign to be? When did he become aware of those efforts? What did the Russian government do to help the Trump campaign?

[18] It’s worth noting that he does not explain what he thought the source of this information was. Receiving stolen information can be a crime. Receiving intelligence directly from the Russian government would at least be highly problematic.

[19] This is the punchline that explains all of the prior statements focusing on Goldstone’s entertainment career. He is trying to suggest that despite the text of the email suggesting that he was meeting with a representative of the Russian government—text that he omitted from this statement—he had no reason to believe that Goldstone’s associates were Russian associates or operatives.

[20] This is an attempt to suggest that the text of the email—which is shocking and highly problematic on its face—is not that important because he didn’t know for sure if it was true. That doesn’t really matter because what matters most is what he did know and what he intended to do.

[21] Note that he does not say here that he didn’t receive information about Hillary Clinton, or other information from the Russian government. What he says is that he did not receive useful information.

[22] This is intentionally vague. Trump Jr. is suggesting that the meeting wasn’t “about” the damaging official information about Clinton, which doesn’t rule out that the information was received before the meeting turned to the subject of the Magnitsky Act.

[23] Once again, this is a word that does not exclude the possibility that other subjects were discussed.

[24] This is a reference to the Magnitsky Act, which was intended to punish certain Russian officials who were believed to be responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky. If an American official promised to work to repeal that act in exchange for something of value, that would be a crime.

[25] Of course in his earliest statement to the press, he did not mention anything about the purpose of the meeting besides adoptions, which was highly misleading. As discussed above, adoptions are a reference to the Magnitsky Act. And later in the statement to the Judiciary Committee he makes explicit that the Magnitsky act was expressly part of the discussion. The wording here tries to suggest he has been straightforward all along. That may be more for public consumption as Senators, their staff, and his own lawyers know his initial statement on July 8 was highly misleading by avoiding the stated purpose of the meeting (derogatory information on Clinton).

Nonetheless, at the time, I thought I should listen[26] to what Rob and his colleagues had to say. To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate[27], I believed that I should at least hear them out[28]. Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel[29] to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration. I also note that at this time there was not the focus on Russian activities that there is today[30].

[26] This is meant to give the impression that Trump Jr. was just there to hear them out, as if he were a journalist or an amateur detective. That subtlety suggests that he was not there to make a deal or obtain something from the Russian government. Obviously, if Trump Jr. was interested in gathering information about what the Russians had to say, he could have alerted the FBI. That’s their job.

[27] This is an odd statement that is very hard to believe. Trump Jr. wasn’t an editorial board or the League of Women Voters. He wasn’t there to evaluate the “fitness” of a candidate—he was the son of the presumptive Republican nominee and was looking for information on his father’s opponent that could be used against her.

[28] See above. “Hear them about” is like “I thought I should listen.” It paints Trump Jr. as a passive fact finder as opposed to an active deal maker.

[29] As I discussed on twitter, this has the potential to be the most important admission by Trump Jr. You don’t consult with counsel about casual meetings with entertainers about adoptions. The fact that he planned to consult with counsel regarding what the Russians told him indicates that he was aware that receiving information from the Russians could open him up to legal liability. That could be used by a prosecutor to help prove his state of mind. Although the contents of any conversation with attorneys would be privileged, his statement that he considered seeking legal advice is not.

[30] Essentially this suggests that because there was not public focus on “collusion” with Russia, Trump Jr. was not aware of potential legal liability created as a result of this meeting. That is not entirely consistent with his prior statement about his plan to consult with an attorney, which suggests that he was aware that the meeting could create legal problems for him.

In responding to Rob’s email, I wrote back and suggested that “perhaps I just speak to Emin first.” As much as some have made of my using the phrase “I love it”, it was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture[31]. Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show’ three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin[32]. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

[31] This is an important sentence because he wrote “I love it” in response to an email in which Goldstone offered “official documents and information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” On its face, his reply could be read as his endorsement of that proposal.

[32] This indicates that his lawyers dug up the phone records and showed them to him after he made a statement to Sean Hannity suggesting that he may not have spoken  to Emin.  (He told Hannity, “I first wanted to just have a phone call, but when that didn’t work out.”) So he now indicates that he knows about the phone records but doesn’t recall the conversations.

The next day, June 7th, I received a follow-up email from Rob inquiring about dates and times for meeting. In one of the emails, Rob mentioned that “two people” would be attending, one of whom was a lawyer[33]. I later learned from Rob that the lawyer was already scheduled to be in court in New York on June 9th[34]. I have also seen press reports that she was on Capitol Hill and attended a congressional hearing on June 14th[35].

[33] The email stated that she was a “Russian government attorney”—in other words, a Russian official or a representative of the Russian government carrying information from the Russian government and as part of the Russian government effort to support his father’s campaign.

[34] This is meant to suggest that she did not travel to New York specifically to meet with him. Also suggests the meeting wasn’t important. It also suggests that even though the meeting was scheduled quickly after the email exchange, that timing does not signify its importance.

[35] This is an attempt to suggest that because the lawyer attended a congressional hearing, it isn’t really a big deal that she met with Trump Jr. Obviously attending a public hearing is not the same thing as a private meeting to deliver “official” information as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

While Rob said he would send me the names of the attendees for the June 9th meeting, he never did. As a result, I had no advance knowledge of who would attend[36]. I told Rob that Jared Kushner and our newly hired campaign manager, Paul Manafort, would likely also attend. I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there, since I did not know myself[37] . Because we were in the same building, Paul, Jared and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings on a moment’s notice[38].

[36] This is meant to suggest that Trump Jr. did not have the ability to vet the people he was meeting with. Obviously he does not address the fact that he was told he was meeting with a “Russian government attorney.” It also is limited to what he knew—he doesn’t state that no one in the campaign knew in advance who would attend.

[37] On its face, this assertion is hard to believe. He claims that campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner agreed to attend a meeting without knowing who would attend or what the meeting was about. That is contrary to how most people work, which is why the context in the next sentence is included. This sentence is important because he is trying to limit their knowledge—if Manafort and Kushner didn’t know anything about the meeting in advance, it makes their attendance at the meeting less problematic. Yet the email string forwarded to them by Trump Jr. contains text indicating that a “Russian government” lawyer sought to provide them “official” information about Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” the subject line on the email read: “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

[38] This statement is intended to provide context to the prior sentence and make it more plausible. But read the language closely—it just says that Manafort, Kushner, and Trump Jr. would invite each other to meetings on a moment’s notice. But in this case, Trump Jr. invited them enough in advance so that it appeared on their calendars. It doesn’t address whether they would agree to meet in advance with unknown people for unknown reasons, and block out their calendars for all three to be present.

June 9th was like every other day during the campaign: chaotic[39]. In addition to the campaign we still had a company to run. Because my father was solely focused on fulfilling his promise to the American people, responsibility for the company fell squarely on the shoulders of my siblings and me. Accordingly, I spent June 9th in and out of a series of campaign and business related meetings and interviews. The meeting which Rob asked for was on my calendar at 4 pm, marked simply as “Meeting: Don Jr. / Jared Kushner[40].”

[39] Once again, this is meant to suggest that he had so much on his plate that he did not carefully consider the implications of this meeting or plan for it in advance.

[40] This is meant to suggest that he had limited knowledge of the people he was meeting with or didn’t care about who they were. A prosecutor might argue that this was meant to conceal the identity of the participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze.’ After a few minutes,’ Jared and Paul joined[41]. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven[42]. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending[43]. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes[44].

[41] This could be an attempt to minimize liability for Kushner and Manafort, because it would mean that they weren’t there for introductions and for any conversation at the start of the meeting.

[42] The eighth person in the room was Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly appeared before Mueller’s grand jury, and who according to press reports worked for Soviet intelligence and may be a Russian spy.

[43] This indicates that his attorneys have investigated and spoke to security personnel and/or obtained records to verify that Goldstone could get upstairs without giving the names of others. This detail has been included to bolster Trump Jr.’s account that he didn’t know the names of the participants in advance. If he had to give their names to the security desk, that would have indicated that he knew the names beforehand. Knowing the names would create the problem for him that he could then be aware in advance of some of the nefarious profiles of some of the group, including the alleged Soviet/Russian spy.

[44] I expect this is true because it is easily disproven. It was included on the heels of reports that Manafort took notes of the meeting that included a reference to contributions and the acronym “RNC” close together. Trump Jr. does not discuss either the RNC or contributions in this statement.

After perfunctory greetings, the lawyer began telling the group[45] very generally something about individuals connected to Russia supporting or funding Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee. It was quite difficult for me to understand what she was saying or why[46]. Given our busy schedules, we politely asked if she could be more specific and provide more clarity about her objective for the meeting[47] . At that point, Ms. Veselnitskaya pivoted and began talking about the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and something called the Magnitsky Act.

[45] The greetings are described as “perfunctory” to suggest that they did not explain at length who they were and who they were acting on behalf of.

[46] Note that Trump Jr.’s memory of this part of the conversation is extremely general and he explains this by his difficulty in understanding her. This limits potential questioning on this point. It’s worth noting that he does not indicate exactly when Kushner and Manafort joined the conversation.

[47] This is meant to suggest that she indicated to them that her “objective for the meeting” was discussing the Magnitsky Act, and that the problematic language in the email was a ruse. Legally it doesn’t matter if a crime is successful—but what is stated in the email string does not, on its own, constitute a crime. This is meant to suggest that nothing more is there. Also note that he does not repeat what he told Hannity—that he was “probably pressing” her for the information at the meeting—which suggests that he was more of an active deal maker as opposed to someone just “hearing them out.”

Until that day, I had never heard of the Magnitsky Act and had no familiarity with this issue[48].’ It was clear to me that her real purpose[49] in asking for the meeting all along was to discuss Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act.’ At this point, Jared excused himself from the meeting’ to take a phone call. I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen[50] there did not seem to be any point to having this discussion. She thanked us for our time and everyone left the conference room. As we walked out, I recall Rob coming over to me to apologize. I have no recollection of any documents being offered or left for us[51]. The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again[52]. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought.

[48] As discussed above, this act was intended to punish individuals involved in the death of Magnitsky. In retaliation, Russia prevented adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens in retaliation and for leverage. His lack of knowledge of the act is meant to suggest that he did not know enough about it to suggest that whether a future Trump administration would roll back the act in exchange for assistance.

[49] This is also meant to suggest that nothing came of the problematic proposal in the email string. But the vague language later in this sentence—“Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act”—seems crafted to sidestep the obvious implication that she was asking for a repeal of the act, which would then result in a repeal of the adoption ban. Making that point explicitly would beg the question—what if anything was Russia offering in exchange?

[50] Trump Jr. puts this line in context by characterizing it as a way to “politely end the meeting.” Otherwise a prosecutor might conclude that his statement that the conversation was pointless because his father was a private citizen was a suggestion that if his father became President, he would have the power to do something about it.

[51] This is a very important sentence. Trump Jr. claims that he doesn’t have a “recollection” of documents being offered or left, but does not discount the possibility that it happened. That wiggle room could be included by his attorneys out of an abundance of caution, but it’s critically important because receiving information that you know is stolen can be a crime.

[52] Note that he does not say that he did not discuss potential collusion with them—only that he never discussed “the meeting” with them.

As is clear from the above[53], I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did. I am grateful for the opportunity to help resolve any lingering concerns that may exist regarding these events. I am very proud of the campaign my father ran and was honored to be a part of it.

[53] This clause appears to limit his declaration in this sentence right after—that he “did not collude” with a foreign government—to just what is described above. If evidence later surfaces of other meetings, he could say that this statement was meant just to describe what happened at this particular meeting.

[Editor’s Note: You may also want to read Renato Mariotti’s “A Former Federal Prosecutor Dissects Kushner’s Statement,” July 25, 2017]

Photo Credit:John Moore/Getty Images

 

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About the Author

Formerly a Federal Prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois Follow him on Twitter (@renato_mariotti).