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Donald Trump Jr. Strikes Deal for ‘Limited’ Interview With Intelligence Committee

The New York Times logo The New York Times 6 days ago Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos
Donald Trump Jr. wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s eldest son, reached a deal to sit for a private interview with the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee in the coming weeks. © Scott Olson/Getty Images Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s eldest son, reached a deal to sit for a private interview with the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee in the coming weeks.

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee reached a deal on Tuesday for the president’s eldest son to return for a time-limited private interview with senators in the coming weeks, an accord that should cool a heated intraparty standoff.

The deal came after an aggressive push by the younger Mr. Trump’s allies, who accused the Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, of caving to Democrats by issuing a subpoena for his testimony. They called the effort a political hit job against the White House, using the president’s son as fodder.

The accusations — and accompanying pushback by Mr. Burr to his Republican colleagues — amounted to an unusually public spat for a panel that has toiled for nearly two years on a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference efforts that has been largely free of partisan politics.

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Just a day before, it looked as if there would be no quick resolution — and possibly a deeper, uglier rift.

Donald Trump Jr.’s lawyer had prepared a blistering letter to send to the committee, telling its members that Mr. Trump would not submit to open-ended questions before a panel that included multiple Democrats running for president, according to people familiar with its contents. Facing a deadline to respond to the subpoena, the lawyer had planned to send the letter on Monday.

But the lawyer received a call from committee aides asking if there were a “reasonable” path forward, according to a person familiar with the events, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the conversations.

The terms of the compromise include an appearance by Mr. Trump in mid-June, with the questions limited to about a half-dozen topics and the time limited to no longer than two to four hours, according to the person familiar with the discussions. Another person familiar with the agreement, who would not be identified, said the scope included more like a dozen topics.

Senate investigators are particularly interested in asking the younger Mr. Trump about an infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as well as about his knowledge of a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Some Democrats have accused Mr. Trump of potentially misleading other congressional committees.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Burr declined to comment on Tuesday.

The move by the younger Mr. Trump’s associates was straight out of his father’s playbook: set the terms of the debate at the most extreme end of the discussion by saying he would not appear, prompt a controversy, then cut a deal on his own terms.

The younger Mr. Trump’s allies quickly declared victory on Tuesday, noting that the deal was essentially what he had asked for at the outset when discussions over a return interview with the committee began months ago.

“This compromise shows all Don wanted was for the committee to be reasonable,” said Cliff Sims, a former White House communications aide and an ally of Mr. Trump’s. “Demanding unlimited time and scope was absurd — the guy’s already testified before Senate Intel for nine hours, after all.”

A person close to the younger Mr. Trump, who in 2018 was a highly in-demand Republican surrogate on the campaign trail, said he was grateful for the support that some Republican senators and members of the House gave him against Mr. Burr, and that he would remember it when the 2020 campaigns begin.

But the agreement also provides Mr. Burr with an off-ramp from the confrontation. If the younger Mr. Trump had refused to appear, the chairman would have faced a painful choice between initiating contempt of Congress proceedings against the president’s eldest son and undercutting the independence of his two-year investigation of Russian election interference by letting him defy him.

President Trump personally questioned why his son would be subpoenaed after the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, had been unable to prove a conspiracy between his campaign and Russia. Republican allies, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, were on board. On Monday, Mr. Graham said if he was the younger Mr. Trump’s lawyer, he would advise him not to talk.

Asked about the subpoena on Monday, Mr. Trump said he viewed it as unfair.

“It’s really a tough situation because my son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that Mueller said was 100 percent O.K.,” he told reporters at the White House. “And now they want him to testify again. I don’t know why. I have no idea why, but it seems very unfair to me.”

Now Mr. Burr can claim that his committee did not let a key witness off the hook, but also managed to talk to yet another key figure in the 2016 presidential campaign as he seeks to wrap up his investigation and issue a public report.

Mr. Burr never commented publicly on the standoff. Privately, though, he suggested to colleagues last week that the subpoena was of the younger Mr. Trump’s own making.

He told Republican Senate colleagues at a private lunch that Donald Trump Jr. had twice agreed — once in March and once in April — to return to the committee for a voluntary interview, only to later back out. It was only after he asked to postpone again in April that the committee authorized a subpoena to compel his appearance, Mr. Burr said.

People close to Donald Trump Jr. say his position on the committee’s request had changed after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report late last month. The report indicated that Mr. Mueller’s investigators had considered charging the younger Mr. Trump in connection with the Trump Tower meeting. They ultimately decided against it.

The younger Mr. Trump sat for an interview with committee investigators in 2017 and has met with a handful of other congressional committees for dozens of hours. The Intelligence Committee asked him back for additional questioning this time by senators themselves, who are seeking to draw their two-year investigation into Russian election interference to a close.

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