Donald Trump Jr. has been subpoenaed by a congressional committee investigating the Russia scandal — but the surprising twist is that it’s a Republican-controlled committee that has made the move.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded Trump Jr. return for further testimony about the Trump Tower Moscow project and other matters, as first reported by Axios’s Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene, and David Nather and confirmed by other news outlets.
It’s an intriguing development for a few reasons. First, it’s coming from a committee in the Republican-controlled Senate, chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Subpoenaing the president’s son is a dramatic move that we might have eventually expected from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, so it’s noteworthy that a Republican-controlled body is taking this step first.
Burr’s committee has been conducting its own investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election for more than two years. That probe was generally viewed as the most bipartisan and credible effort from the previous GOP-controlled Congress. But Burr himself is hardly unfriendly to the president — he advised Trump’s 2016 campaign on national security and opined earlier this year that he’d seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. (This spurred Trump to call Burr a “highly respected” senator.)
Second, news of the move comes even though special counsel Robert Mueller has wrapped up his investigation and declined to charge Trump Jr. with any crime — but, per Axios’s report, there are “questions” about Don Jr.’s previous testimony to Senate investigators that the committee wants to clear up.
In 2017, Trump Jr. testified about Russia-related matters behind closed doors to both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. His Intelligence Committee testimony has not been publicly released, but his Judiciary Committee testimony has been. In it, Trump Jr. claimed he knew “very little” about Michael Cohen’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and was only “peripherally aware” of it.
But Cohen later told a different story. The former Trump lawyer struck a plea deal in which he himself admitted lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow efforts in 2017. Cohen also testified this year that he briefed Trump family members on the project “approximately 10” times, and that those family members were Don Jr. and Ivanka (though he did not say if all 10 briefings were with Don Jr.).
So there were already questions about whether Trump Jr. was fully candid with the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we don’t know what he told the Intelligence Committee.
Axios quotes a source close to Trump Jr. saying that he had committed to appear only once before the committee, and that “we’re not sure why we’re fighting with Republicans.” But it certainly doesn’t seem like the GOP-controlled body would take this step lightly.