Democrats promised to subpoena the living daylights out of the Trump administration if they took back the House in November, and the new majority was hopeful that a recent Senate investigation may provide the evidence needed to move forward with impeachment proceedings.
Confident that then-candidate Donald Trump was conspiring with Russia to take down Hillary Clinton, Democrats sought to uncover the identity of three blocked incoming calls to Trump Jr.’s phone arriving around the same time as a now-infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian attorney. The private numbers have now been identified as belonging to close family friends Brian France and Howard Lorber, throwing water on a Democratic conspiracy theory that lasted for months and prompted disgraceful accusations of a Republican cover-up.
“After a year of hearing about this one ad nauseam, yet another left-wing narrative officially bites the dust,” Trump Jr. said after hearing that the callers had been identified.
Accompanied by other senior Trump campaign officials, Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 with the understanding that she possessed negative information about Clinton. However, Veselnitskaya instead wanted to talk about overturning financial sanctions imposed against wealthy Russian oligarchs, causing Trump Jr. to lose interest and adjourn the meeting after just ten minutes.
While it isn’t illegal to conduct opposition research on political opponents, President Donald Trump insisted that he had no knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, and Trump Jr. testified behind closed doors that he couldn’t recall the identity behind the blocked phone calls.
“To me as a former prosecutor, that looks like he may very well have been trying to call his father to talk to his father about taking this meeting with the Agalarovs, who are friends with Donald Trump,” Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told MSNBC in April. “So, it would blow up the whole story that Donald Trump the candidate had no idea that this meeting took place.”
“Hot cellphone lead”
No one in Congress was more convinced that Trump Jr.’s phone records would point to his father’s involvement than Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who took over as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in January. “Republicans refused to look at the phone records so that we could find out because they were afraid of what the answer might be,” Schiff said in November.
“We can’t obviously force them to work with us,” Schiff told USA Today when House Republicans refused to subpoena the phone records. “They’ll have to make the decision for themselves whether they’re interested in finding out the truth or they’re interested in merely being extensions of Rudy Giuliani.”
Republican Intelligence Committee spokesman Jack Langer dismissed the allegation, arguing that Schiff “doesn’t have the best track record in proving his various conspiracy theories — but good luck to him on his hot cellphone lead.”
Trump Jr. was not impressed, either. “He was basically, like, ‘Yawn,’” a source close to Trump Jr. told The Observer. “They’re going to come up with a thousand of these things. Like, let’s see his credit card statements the day he had that meeting.”
In May, Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee released documents showing that Trump Jr. placed two phone calls to a private phone number on June 6, lasting 11 minutes and 4 minutes respectively. A second call lasting 3 minutes was made on June 9 to a separate blocked number.
According to two sources briefed on the matter who spoke to The New York Times, those calls were to NASCAR CEO Brian France and business investor Howard Lorber. France has known the Trump family for more than 20 years, and he has appeared alongside Trump at campaign rallies and conventions.
Lorber has known the family even longer, and he has been involved in real estate deals with the president. A spokesperson for Lorber said the business executive “does not recall having conversations with Donald Jr. in the summer of 2016, but in any event he has absolutely not had conversations with Donald Jr. about any Russian matters.”
Know when to fold em’
Although the criminal conspiracy theory has been debunked, Schiff isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. “Those conversations could have taken place over the phone or they could have taken place by Don Jr. walking down the hall to talk to Dad,” Schiff told The Times, referencing other possible scenarios in which Trump Jr. could have informed his father of the meeting.
The new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee pledged to find out “what the president’s role was in all of this.”
Perhaps Democrats should subpoena Trump Tower security footage to see if Schiff’s alternative harebrained theory is correct. Or better yet, perhaps the FBI had some listening devices in the Trump family home at the time, or maybe Democrats could consult with one of the FBI spies embedded with the Trump campaign in 2016.