Two Democrats on the House intelligence committee say they want to promptly re-interview the president’s eldest son about his campaign’s contacts with Russians.
Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat on the panel, told The Daily Beast on Friday that there were “nine to ten people I’d like to have back,” owing to an avalanche of information tumbling down since committee Republicans shut down their Trump-Russia probe last April. Among them, he said, are “Don Jr., [Michael] Cohen, and Erik Prince.”
By now, the committee has “gained so much more information, and circumstances have revealed more information, that calls into question the credibility of their testimony,” Quigley said.
His California colleague, Rep. Jackie Speier, told The Daily Beast that “one of the first people I’d like to have back is Don Jr.” She mused last week about subpoenaing him if necessary.
All that underscores the swirl of political and potentially legal jeopardy the president’s own family faces in the various Russia probes as the Democrats now in charge of the intelligence committee are gearing to correct what they see as a central mistake of their Republican predecessors: not using their powers to compel documents and testimony from witnesses.
“It’s his credibility, it’s what he said and didn’t say,” Speier said. “It’s the fact that we never got documents from him, never [issued] a subpoena. If you don’t subpoena documents, you don’t know anything.”
A committee aide didn’t foreclose the possibility of another interview with the president’s son.
“No decision has yet been made on additional testimony by Don Jr., although that may very well be necessary,” the aide told The Daily Beast.
Cohen is at the center of a new BuzzFeed report, citing law enforcement sources, that claims Trump instructed him to lie to Congress about 2016 negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Court records indicate that Cohen was in contact with the Kremlin about the project, underway while presidential candidate Trump mused about lifting sanctions on Russia. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani called the report “made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence.”
The Buzzfeed report — which Mueller's office put out a rare public statement contesting Friday evening, shortly after this story, now updated, was first published — also said Cohen had briefed Don Jr. and his sister, Ivanka, on the Moscow project. The president’s son, a senior executive in the Trump Organization, also faces scrutiny for his role in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower New York where a Kremlin-linked attorney discussed sanctions relief. In an email to Trump Jr., meeting organizer Rob Goldstone called the offer “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House committee, told NPR this week that he plans to acquire Donald Trump Jr.’s phone records to learn more about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The younger Trump sat for an eight-hour interview with the committee, then under GOP leadership, in December 2017. Speier said at the time Trump Jr. had a “serious case of amnesia” in his responses to legislators’ questions.
The Daily Beast reported last month that the House intelligence Democrats also want Erik Prince to answer more questions. Cohen, ahead of serving a prison sentence, will testify before a different House panel on Feb. 7.
“All of the persons that we interviewed in the intelligence committee in the Trump orbit need to be re-interviewed, and we need to subpoena documents,” Speier said.
After the BuzzFeed story was published, Schiff vowed to “do what is necessary” to determine if Trump “suborned perjury.” In Senate testimony Tuesday, Trump’s attorney general nominee Bill Barr said doing so would be obstruction of justice.
“If a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction,” Barr also wrote in a June 2018 memo to the Justice Department.
An attorney for Trump Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.
But the intelligence committee has some immediate priorities. The minority Republican membership has yet to be announced, a necessary step for the committee to formally reconstitute itself and begin work. A query this week about the new Republican membership to the offices of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and ranking intelligence-committee member Devin Nunes went unreturned.
Quigley, speaking for himself, said that his priorities on the panel would be to “make sure the special counsel has all the transcripts” of witnesses before the House committee, then plan to restart the Russia’s investigation, “subpoena documents as appropriate,” and then recall witnesses, under subpoena if necessary – a process, Quigley said, that “starts with Mr. Cohen.”
The window for the committee to interview Cohen will close in March, when Cohen goes to prison, Speier noted.
BuzzFeed’s report was the latest highlighting the political and legal liabilities the various Russia probes pose to the Trump administration. Last week, the New York Times reported that in May of 2017, the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president’s relationship to a hostile foreign power, something unprecedented in American history.
Still, Quigley cautioned the public “not to fixate on any one aspect of this. There’s just so much more to learn… We’re going to get to the truth.”