WASHINGTON (CN) — After much delay, 57 transcripts featuring testimony from key figures at the center of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election were finally released late Thursday.
From former administration officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions to some of President Donald Trump’s closest White House confidantes and campaign consiglieres like Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale and Carter Page to the recently convicted Roger Stone; the transcripts are a bookend that former impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, described Thursday night as confirmation of what former special counsel Robert Mueller already revealed.
“[The] Trump campaign, and Donald Trump himself, invited illicit Russian help, made full use of that help and then lied and obstructed the investigations in order to cover up this misconduct,” Schiff said in a statement Thursday.
The trove of transcripts and other investigation materials were held in declassification limbo for over a year as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reviewed and redacted the records as it felt necessary.
First submitted for review in 2017, it was not until last March that the House Intelligence Committee was notified the White House wanted first looks and the right to redact anything that appeared to undermine the executive branch.
It was just this week that acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell notified the committee that final interagency review was completed for the remaining ten transcripts. Forty-three transcripts had already been reviewed and were effectively lying in wait since last June, Grenell said.
“While Special Counsel Mueller found insufficient evidence to prove the crime of criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, he refused to draw any conclusion on the issue of collusion – contrary to false representations made by Attorney General Bill Barr and others,” Schiff said.
The “rich detail” of the transcripts, he added, established a long pattern of corrupt interactions seeming to spill over from year to year of Trump’s presidency.
Representative Al Green, a Texas Democrat, said in an interview Thursday he regretted the transcripts were not released some time ago, “so the whole story can be told.”
“I think transparency is important because the people have a right to know if there’s an intrusion into our elections,” Green said. “Free and fair elections are dependent upon no interference from foreign agents or foreign powers.”
Thursday night’s doc dump included 2017 testimony delivered by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., spanning more than 200 pages.
The transcript revealed a painstaking back and forth unfolding for roughly seven hours between the president’s son and lawmakers keen on gathering information about Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, then campaign manager-turned-convict Paul Manafort and senior adviser Jared Kushner at Trump Tower in New York.
Trump Jr. met with Veselnitskaya after learning she might have dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Sr.’s opponent in the 2016 election.
Veselnitskaya was later charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated money laundering investigation last January by federal prosecutors. While there were no connections to her meeting with Trump related to that Justice Department investigation, it did confirm the depth and breadth of her connections to powerful Russian operatives.
Schiff, according to the transcript, pressed Trump Jr. about his correspondence ahead of the meeting and specifically, his now infamous remark that he would “love it” if the opposition research was damning and delivered in the summer before the election.
Was Trump Jr. willing to accept political help on his father’s behalf even if it came from the Kremlin, Schiff pressed.
“Well, I think what [sic] I say “I love it,” especially if I’m putting it off by a few months, it’s a colloquial term of expression, as I said in my statement a few months ago. I would have been willing to listen and hear him out, and, you know, again, that’s about the extent of it. But at the time I wasn’t giving it too much credence, otherwise I wouldn’t have put it off till the end of summer,” Trump Jr. said.
Six months prior to his appearance before House Intelligence, the president’s son told reporters the meeting was about U.S.-Russian adoption issues. Within a day the story changed, and he chalked the meeting up to receiving information “helpful to the campaign.”
President Trump complicated matters further over a series of tweets in the days that followed, prompting new questions over whether the president was directly involved in drafting what ended up being bogus messaging around public reports of the June 2016 meeting.
In one tense exchange with Schiff, Trump Jr. appeared to stumble when facing pointed questions about precisely when he spoke to his father about the meeting and any emails that might have been exchanged.
“Once you did discuss the emails with your father, what took place — I’m not going to ask you about what you asked your attorney or what your attorney told you, but what did you tell your father about the emails?” Schiff said.
Trump Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas attempted to assert privilege.
“There’s no privilege between Mr. Trump, Jr. and his father,” Schiff shot back. “So let me ask you again: What did you tell your father about the emails?”
Trump Jr. was ultimately unable to clearly recall what he said or when he said it.
One 113-page transcript of testimony delivered by an unnamed FBI special agent details how former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele became a source for the FBI and how his infamous dossier came to the U.S. government.
So reliable was Steele’s intel historically that the agent said he flew to London within just a day of hearing reports of lewd events involving President Trump, Russian prostitutes and a series of bizarre activities unfolding in a Russian hotel room.
“At the time, when he put that in front of me, I read the reports and, you know I was — I had to take a step back for a second and just kind of digest it, understanding internally that at this point things were going to be very different because of these reports,” the FBI agent told lawmakers.
Without video or audio corroboration however, the agent shared information with a special agent in New York who eventually collaborated details with a local FBI outfit.
At the time, senior FBI officials had already seen the reports, prompting the unnamed agent to send details to a counterintelligence unit chief for verification.
That unit chief, the agent told lawmakers, said the dossier “corroborated information that they had received [redacted] that actually predicated all this investigation.”
The agent said the FBI stopped using Steele as a source after he was the source of a Mother Jones report that broke the news about the dossier. The agent at first assumed Steele had talked with Mother Jones because he had not been paid, but when confronted Steele said it was because he was upset former FBI Director James Comey had announced the FBI was reviewing new information about Hillary Clinton’s emails days before the election.
“Again up until that point, the bias was anti-Russian, anti-Russian-efforts-to-compromise-our-process,” the agent said. “But at that point, you know, clearly, he’s upset because this was going to negatively affect Hillary Clinton’s campaign at that point in time. And so you know he didn’t come out and say ‘I support Hillary,’ you know, but he was upset because of that action and it would negatively affect her campaign.”
Other contentious former administration officials like Steve Bannon, once quoted in Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” as saying the Mueller probe was teeing up money laundering allegations against Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, said in private testimony that he did not recall making those comments.
“It’s just, you know, the stories I’ve read in the paper and you know, things I’ve, from what the — Mueller, the types of people Mueller’s hired, like [Andrew] Weissman, their expertise,” Bannon said.
Following this exchange, Schiff questioned Bannon on why he believed the Mueller probe was related to money laundering and under the advice of counsel, declined to comment further.
“So, for the record Mr. Bannon, at this point, you’re not willing to answer any questions about whether you discussed with the president what his tax returns might show in terms of evidence of interest to special counsel?” Shiff asked.
“That’s correct.” Bannon said.
Hicks, who worked in the White House and on the campaign as a press officer, also repeatedly declined to answer lawmakers’ questions about whether Trump, members of his family or people in the campaign ever asked her to lie for them.