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Trump Jr.'s 2017 Testimony Conflicts With Cohen's Account Of Russian Talks

Donald Trump Jr.'s account of his family's real estate negotiations with powerful Russians, which he gave to Congress in 2017, contrasts with the new version of events given Thursday by his father's former fixer in federal court Thursday.
Donald Trump Jr.'s account of his family's real estate negotiations with powerful Russians, which he gave to Congress in 2017, contrasts with the new version of events given Thursday by his father's former fixer in federal court Thursday.

Updated at 2:01 p.m. ET

Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony to Congress about his family's real estate negotiations with powerful Russians does not comport with the new version laid out by Donald Trump's ex-attorney Michael Cohen, official transcripts show.

Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 that although there had been negotiations surrounding a prospective Trump Tower in Moscow, they concluded without result "at the end" of 2014.

"But not in 2015 or 2016?" Trump Jr. was asked.

"Certainly not '16," he said. "There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue."

The questions and Trump Jr.'s answers do allude to a number of other prospective projects; he also was asked by Senate investigators about news reports about a Trump Tower Moscow negotiation that took place in 2015 and 2016, which he acknowledged but did not detail.

The accounts by Trump Jr. contrast with a new version of events given by Cohen on Thursday in a guilty plea in federal court. In that new version, Cohen says the discussions with at least one Russian government official and others in Moscow continued through June 2016, well into Trump's presidential campaign.

In reference to the 2016 negotiations, Cohen initially told Congress he reached out to a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin and didn't hear back. The talks, he said then, ended in January of that year.

On Thursday, Cohen's guilty plea acknowledged that he had heard back and that other negotiations with other Russians went forward.

Trump Jr. told the Senate committee last year that he was "peripherally aware" of those discussions but that he didn't know that Cohen had sent an email to the Putin aide, Dmitry Peskov.

Cohen said in his guilty plea that he had briefed Trump's family members about his talks, although the court documents don't specify which ones.

Looking "lightly"

An attorney for Trump Jr. didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Earlier this year, when other potential discrepancies arose between what Cohen was saying and what Trump Jr. told Congress, attorney Alan Futerfas stood by Trump Jr.'s testimony.

"Donald Trump Jr. has been professional and responsible throughout the Mueller and congressional investigations," he said in the summer. "We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump Jr., and on his behalf."

Separately, an attorney for President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, said on Thursday that no laws have been broken and that the information that underpins Cohen's plea actually came from the Trump Organization — confirming that it has been supporting the ongoing investigations.

"Michael Cohen is a liar," Giuliani said. "It's no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He's a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization."

Continued Giuliani: "It is important to understand that documents that the special counsel's office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide."

President Trump downplayed the importance of the negotiations in a Twitter post on Friday that said he'd only "lightly" looked into a Moscow project and underscored how it never moved forward.

The timeline

The shift in understanding of the events of 2016 provided by Cohen is important for a few reasons:

First, it called into question the Trump family's denials about having business dealings with Russians. Second, it confirmed the Trumps had a channel open with powerful Russians at the same time the Russian government was waging a widespread campaign of "active measures" against the United States.

And third, it put the Russian government and others in Moscow in the position of being able to know, confidentially, the truth about the Trump family's denials about negotiations over the Moscow real estate deals.

According to Trump Jr. and others who have spoken to Congress, the Trump family was negotiating with Moscow real estate billionaire Aras Agalarov and his family.

Aras and his son Emin also were in the chain of contacts used to convey an offer of help for the Trump campaign from the Russian government to Trump Jr., one that yielded a meeting in New York City in June of 2016. Trump Jr. and other top campaign leaders hosted a delegation they believed would deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton.

A representative for the Agalarovs, Ike Kaveladze, also attended that conference on June 9 in New York City. Aras Agalarov asked him to attend, he told Senate investigators. He was briefed beforehand about the presentation he said attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya intended to give, Kaveladze said.

The Russians intended to tell the Trump campaign leaders about what they called a scheme involving American investors funneling money to the Democratic National Committee, Kaveladze told investigators.

The contrasts between Cohen's statement and Trump Jr's version of events may complicate potential legal problems for Trump Jr. Although seldom prosecuted, lying to Congress is against the law — as evidenced by Cohen's plea.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said he has made referrals to the office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller because he said he believed people hadn't given his committee the truth.

He declined to identify who might be involved or how often he has referred cases to Mueller, but Burr did allude to Cohen's plea as an example what he called the consequences that could be involved.

"One instance just highlighted of late is that the special prosecutor made an indictment yesterday using the transcripts of interviews we have done in our committee to indict somebody for lying to Congress," Burr said on Friday.

"It's a loud message to everybody that is interviewed by our committee ... If you lie to us we're going to go after you."

Trump Jr. was advised in his Senate Judiciary Committee interview that although he hadn't sworn an oath to tell the truth, he was required by law to answer questions from Congress truthfully. He was asked whether he understood that.

"I do," Trump Jr. answered.
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