House Democrats in Congress suffered a major setback after Senate investigators told CNN they have evidence that Donald Trump Jr. did not call his father ahead of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.
President Trump underscored the finding in a tweet late Thursday:
Just out: The big deal, very mysterious Don jr telephone calls, after the innocent Trump Tower meeting, that the media & Dems said were made to his father (me), were just conclusively found NOT to be made to me. They were made to friends & business associates of Don. Really sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2019
Three sources told CNN Thursday that records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee showed the calls were between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates.
ABC News and the New York Times named the two associates as Nascar CEO Brian France and businessman Howard Lorber.
Democrats had suspected that calls between Trump Jr. and a blocked number before the meeting were between him and President Trump.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) had criticized then-chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) for not pursuing investigating if the calls were with the president.
He complained that “the committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number” and pledged to get to the bottom of it as chairman.
He wrote in a memo last year that “based on the timing of these calls, the committee must determine whether some of these calls may be between Trump Jr. and Donald J. Trump, including calls concerning the Trump Tower meeting.”
He also told CNN in November, “We wanted to get the phone records to determine, was Donald Trump talking to his son about this meeting.”
“It’s an obvious investigative step, but one the Republicans were unwilling to take because they were afraid of where the evidence might lead,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also had vowed to get to the bottom of the blocked numbers.
“We also do not know who they told about this meeting, including whether they ever discussed it with Mr. Trump,” Feinstein wrote.
Democrats had zeroed in on three phone calls Trump Jr. had with blocked and private numbers days before and on the day he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
Trump Jr. had two calls with two blocked phone numbers three days before the meeting and one call with a private number hours after the meeting, CNN reported.
The calls with the blocked phone numbers came on the same day he had talked to Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the son of a Russian oligarch who knew Trump from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov, had initially requested the meeting between Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, who at the time was lobbying to overturn the Magnitsky Act, which imposed U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Rob Goldstone, a British publicist for Emin Agalarov, first reached out to Trump Jr. regarding the meeting, saying that Veselnitskaya had dirt on Hillary Clinton she wanted to share.
But Trump Jr. and other participants later said no dirt was provided, and the meeting turned out to be about the Magnitsky Act.
Curiously, Veselnitskaya was also at that time working with Fusion GPS, the firm who manufactured and spread the anti-Trump dossier among officials and reporters in Washington.
Veselnitskaya reportedly met with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson the morning of the Trump Tower meeting and again afterwards.
Trump Jr. testified to Congress in 2017 that he did not speak to his father about the meeting or the underlying offer of dirt on Clinton, and Trump has said he learned about the meeting after it was reported in 2017.
CNN wrote, “Democrats had reason to suspect the private number was Trump,” as Trump’s first campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had told the House Intelligence Committee that Trump’s primary residence had a blocked phone line.