At today’s House Intelligence Committee session between committee members and Donald Trump Jr., the President’s eldest son faced scrutiny over his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin.
House investigators sought to discover the contents of Trump Jr.’s conversation with his father once news of the potentially incriminating meeting broke.
Trump Jr., however, declined to give meaningful responses to investigators by instead invoking attorney-client privilege.
While neither he nor his father, Donald Trump, are attorneys, Trump Jr. decided that since an attorney was present during the discussion, he would not have to divulge what was said.
“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s top Democrat. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.”
Trump Jr. did, however, try to deflect attention from his father by claiming that he sought White House communications director Hope Hicks’ advice once news of the meeting put the administration in the spotlight. The move will undoubtedly put Hicks squarely in investigators’ crosshairs, if she has not already been interviewed by special counselor Robert Mueller.
The 2016 meeting was a point of particular controversy for the White House. While Trump Jr. initially claimed the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of adoption, it was ultimately discovered that he and others attended in hopes of gathering dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The meeting was also attended by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
Of those in attendance, Manafort has already been charged and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Because there was already an ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the White House’s involvement in the meeting is not only bad optics, but possibly evidence of illegal activity. Depending on Veselnitskaya’s relationship to the Kremlin, the meeting may very well be considered colluding with a foreign government to influence the outcome of an election, which is illegal in the United States.
Trump Jr.’s tenuous legal defenses may serve as an effecting stalling technique, but they won’t save him from a rapidly progressing investigation, of which he is a central focus.