In this Nov. 2016 photo, Donald Trump Jr., son of President-elect Donald Trump, walks from the elevator at Trump Tower in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In this Nov. 2016 photo, Donald Trump Jr., son of President-elect Donald Trump, walks from the elevator at Trump Tower in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Trump Jr. says he was open to info on Clinton’s ‘character’

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s eldest son has told Senate staffers he was open to receiving information about Hillary Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications” when he accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer last year.

Donald Trump Jr. made the comment in an opening statement delivered Thursday to staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was interviewing Trump Jr. privately.

The statement focused on the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower involving Trump Jr., the Russian lawyer and others.

He also said that neither he nor anyone he knows colluded with any foreign government.

The New York Times was first to report on Trump Jr.’s prepared statement.

Trump Jr. made the opening statement of about 15 to 20 minutes before taking questions behind closed doors from staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of several congressional panels that have been investigating Russian interference in the election. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the committee, said Thursday that Trump Jr. delivered an opening statement and then described the meeting and “his recollection of it.”

Trump Jr.’s appearance marks a new phase in the Senate’s investigation and reveals continuing interest in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Emails he released in July show that Trump Jr. was told before the meeting that he would receive damaging information about his father’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, as part of what was described to him as a Russian government effort to aid his father, the GOP nominee.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate Intelligence committees also are investigating that meeting, which was also attended by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. A grand jury has heard testimony about it.

Senate aides also could pursue other possible connections that the president’s family had with Russia.

Trump Jr. agreed to the interview after the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, subpoenaed him and Manafort. The committee withdrew the subpoenas after the two agreed to be interviewed privately by staff. Grassley said they both would eventually be questioned by senators in a public hearing.

Trump Jr. also was expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee at some point.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, said the panel wants to speak with others who attended the June meeting before interviewing Trump Jr.

“We want to do this in a thorough way that gets the most information possible,” Warner said.

Manafort met privately with staff on that committee in July. Kushner has met with that staff, as well as members of the House Intelligence Committee.

That House committee has tried to talk to Trump Jr., but Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said negotiations are underway and a date hasn’t been set.

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