Rep. Sewell Questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller
July 24, 2019
Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence interviewed Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), a senior member of the Committee, focused her questioning on the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law, Jared Kushner, campaign manager, Paul Manafort and at least five Russian nationals.
Senior members of the Trump campaign met with the Russian delegation after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The meeting has become a central component of the Committee’s counterintelligence investigation, as it is against the law for a political campaign to accept anything of value from a foreign government.
“Isn’t it against the law for a presidential campaign to accept anything of value from a foreign government?” Sewell asked.
“Generally, speaking,” Mueller said, “yes.”
“So, to be clear,” Sewell said. “Top Trump campaign officials learned that Russia wanted to ‘help’ Donald Trump’s campaign by giving him dirt on his opponent. Trump Jr. said he ‘loved it.’ Then he and the senior officials held a meeting with the Russians to try to get that Russian help. But they were disappointed because the dirt wasn’t as good as they had hoped. Did anyone, to your knowledge, in the Trump campaign ever tell the FBI about this offer?”
“I don’t believe so,” Mr. Mueller said.
“Sir, is it not the responsibility of political campaigns to inform the FBI if they receive information from a foreign government?” Sewell continued.
“I would think that’s something they would and should do,” Mr. Mueller said.
In a sweeping and systemic fashion, Russia launched an attack on the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The Committee today highlighted multiple instances in which the Trump Campaign, including candidate Trump, knew about the attack, welcomed Russia’s help and built their campaign messaging around Russia’s attack.
A rush transcript of Sewell’s questioning is below, and video is available here.
Rep. Terri Sewell
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
July 24, 2019
Rep. Sewell: Mr. Mueller, I’d like to turn your attention to the June 9th Trump Tower meeting. On SLIDE #2 which should be on the screen now, is part of an email chain between Donald Trump Jr. and a publicist representing the son of a Russian oligarch. The email exchange ultimately led to the now infamous June 9, 2016 meeting.
The email from the publicist to Trump Jr. reads, in part: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” and “is a part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump…”
In this email, Donald Trump’s son is being told that the Russian government wants to pass along information meant to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. Is that correct?
Special Counsel Mueller: Yes.
Rep. Sewell: Now, Trump Jr.’s response to the email is slide 3. He said, quote, “[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Then, Trump Jr. invited senior campaign officials Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner to the meeting, did he not?
Special Counsel Mueller: He did.
Rep. Sewell: This email exchange is evidence of an offer of illegal assistance, is it not?
Special Counsel Mueller: I cannot adopt that characterization.
Rep. Sewell: But isn’t it against the law for a presidential campaign to accept anything of value from a foreign government?
Special Counsel Mueller: Generally, speaking, yes. But, generally the cases are unique.
Rep. Sewell: Well, you say on page 184 in Volume I that federal campaign finance laws generally prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions, etc., and then you say that foreign nationals may not make a contribution or donation of money or anything of value. It says clearly in the report itself.
Special Counsel Mueller: Thank you.
Rep. Sewell: Now let’s turn to what actually happened at the meeting, when Trump Jr. and the others got to the June 9th meeting, they realized that the Russian delegation didn’t have the promised “dirt.” In fact, they got upset about that, did they not?
Special Counsel Mueller: Generally, yes.
Rep. Sewell: You say in Vol. I, p. 118 that Trump Jr. asked, “What are we doing here, what do they have on Clinton? And during the meeting, Kushner also texted Manafort, saying it was a – quote – “waste of time” – unquote. Isn’t that correct?
Special Counsel Mueller: I believe that is in the report along the lines you’ve specified.
Rep. Sewell: So, to be clear: Top Trump campaign officials learned that Russia wanted to “help” Donald Trump’s campaign by giving him dirt on his opponent. Trump Jr. said he “loved it.” Then he and the senior officials held a meeting with the Russians to try to get that Russian help. But they were disappointed because the dirt wasn’t as good as they had hoped.
So, to the next step. Did anyone, to your knowledge, in the Trump Campaign ever tell the FBI about this offer?
Special Counsel Mueller: I don’t believe so.
Rep. Sewell: Did Trump Jr. tell the FBI that they received an offer of help from the Russians?
Special Counsel Mueller: That’s about all I’m saying on this subject.
Rep. Sewell: Wouldn’t it be true, sir, that if they had reported it to the FBI, or anyone in the campaign had, during the course of your two-year investigation you would have uncovered such a --
Special Counsel Mueller: I would hope so, yes.
Rep. Sewell: Sir, is it not the responsibility of political campaigns to inform the FBI if they receive information from a foreign government?
Special Counsel Mueller: I would think that’s something they would and should do.
Rep. Sewell: Well, not only did Trump Jr. or any of the campaign officials not tell the FBI, they sought to hide the existence of the June 9th meeting from you for over a year. Is that not correct?
Special Counsel Mueller: On the general characterization I would question it. If you’re referring to later initiative that later flowed from the media, then --
Rep. Sewell: No, what I am suggesting is that you said in Vol. II, page five, “On several occasions, the President directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails setting up the June 9 meeting…”
Special Counsel Mueller: Yes, that’s accurate.
Rep. Sewell: Thanks. Sir, given this illegal assistance by the Russians, even given that, you did not charge Trump Jr. or any of the other officials with conspiracy. Is that right?
Special Counsel Mueller: Correct. You’re talking about other officials, you’re talking about attendees of the June 9th meeting?
Rep. Sewell: Yes, that’s right. Mr. Mueller, even though you didn’t charge them with conspiracy, don’t you think that the American people would be concerned that those three senior campaign officials eagerly sought a foreign adversary’s help to win the election, and don’t you think reporting that is important? That we don’t set a precedent for future elections?
Special Counsel Mueller: I cannot accept that characterization.
Rep. Sewell: Well, listen, I think that it seems like a betrayal of American values to me, sir, that not being criminal, it is definitely unethical, and wrong. And I think that we should not set a precedent that political campaigns should not divulge information if it’s foreign government assistance.
Thank you, sir.