President Donald Trump said Thursday he was “very surprised” to learn his eldest son had been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify as part of the panel’s investigation into Russian election interference.
The president expressed frustration a day after it was revealed that Donald Trump Jr. received a subpoena from the Republican-led panel demanding a follow-up to his prior testimony before the committee.
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It’s the first known congressional subpoena to a member of the president’s family, a move supported by Democrats, who have long said Trump Jr. lied to Congress about his actions and statements during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The decision to issue the subpoena, however, was ultimately made by Republican senators, a fact that irked Trump associates, who have concentrated most of their anger on the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
“I was very surprised,” Trump said when asked about his son’s subpoena. “I saw Richard Burr saying there was no collusion two or three weeks ago.”
Burr declined to answer questions about the subpoena Thursday.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me when I said I’m not going to talk to you guys right now,” he told reporters.
It is unclear exactly why the committee subpoenaed Trump Jr. The president’s eldest son came under scrutiny during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for his participation in a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on his father’s political opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The president’s former attorney Michael Cohen in February also claimed Trump Jr. was involved in talks surrounding the Trump Tower Moscow project, though Trump Jr. has publicly downplayed his role in negotiations.
When asked if his son would fight the subpoena, Trump said: “We’ll see what happens.”
“My son is a good person. My son testified for hours and hours,” the president said. “My son was totally exonerated by Mueller, who, frankly, does not like Donald Trump — me.”
The White House has rejected multiple congressional subpoenas in the past month, sparking fights between the two branches of government and paving the way for future legal battles and potential impeachment.
Trump has trumpeted the results of Mueller’s 22-month probe as evidence of “total exoneration” of him, even though the special counsel did not say that. Mueller’s 448-page report — which the president on Thursday described as “the Bible” — said there was insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to meddle with the 2016 election.
Mueller’s report also did not take a stance on whether the president obstructed justice by attempting to interfere with the special counsel probe. Attorney General William Barr, however, declared there was not enough evidence to pursue charges.
Though Mueller indicted multiple Trump associates over the course of the investigation, the special counsel wrote in his report that Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the other senior Trump campaign officials present at the Trump Tower meeting — did not face charges because there was not evidence they took the meeting with the knowledge they might be committing a crime.
Mueller also said the opposition research the Russian lawyer offered didn’t necessarily constitute an illegal donation — a statement the president loudly reiterated Thursday. If conducting opposition research is wrong, Trump said almost all the people standing beside him in the White House Roosevelt Room were guilty.
The version of the special counsel’s report released to the public contains redactions hiding the reason Trump Jr. refused to sit for a voluntary interview with Mueller’s team. The blacked-out section has spurred speculations that Mueller tried to subpoena Trump Jr. or that the president’s son invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Trump Jr. supporters claimed he gave his prior testimony to the Senate Committee with the understanding he only needed to appear once in person if he stayed for as long as the panel needed him. Some Republican lawmakers have joined the president in blasting the decision to subpoena the president’s son.
“@DonaldJTrumpJr has already spent dozens of hours testifying in front of Congressional committees. Endless investigations—by either party—won’t change the fact that there was NO collusion,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a tweet. “It’s time to move on. It’s time to focus on ISSUES, not investigations.”
“Serving a subpoena to Don Trump Jr.—a private citizen who voluntarily testified before 3 Congressional committees for 25+ hours—is beyond inappropriate,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally, echoed on Twitter. “He answered questions and was cleared in the Mueller report after a 2 year, unlimited investigation. It’s over. Let it go.”
Trump, though, on Thursday also repeated his rallying cry for a probe into the genesis of the Mueller’s investigation, continuing the GOP’s pattern of giving mixed signals as they alternate between calls to move on from the issue and a desire to investigate the investigators.
Tensions between the White House and Democratic lawmakers seem poised to increase as Trump fights off efforts to investigate him on a number of fronts. The president has pledged to defy all congressional subpoenas that come his way.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.