Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed varying degrees of bewilderment Thursday to the revelation – coming just two days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pronounced "case closed" on the now-debunked allegations the Trump administration conspired with Russian operatives in 2016 – the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. demanding further testimony.
Several Beltway denizens, particularly Republicans, were left scratching their heads Thursday as to why the 41-year-old Trump Jr., the president's eldest child, would be called upon to testify again three weeks after special counsel Robert Mueller cleared President Trump, his campaign, and his family of any supposed collusion.
"It is odd," former presidential adviser, GOP commentator, attorney, and Georgetown professor Bradley Blakeman tells Newsmax. "To recall a witness after the Mueller Report cleared all is strange, and what makes it stranger is the need to subpoena him."
Trump Jr. already has provided exhaustive testimony to Congress. He testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee for over five hours in September 2017, to the Senate Intelligence Committee for nine hours in December 2017, and to the House Intelligence Committee for more than eight hours in December 2017.
Among the reactions to the Trump Jr. subpoena:
- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., served up a none-too-subtle Twitter slam targeting Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Apparently the Republican chair of the Senate Intel Committee didn't get the memo from the Majority leader that this case was closed . . ." he said.
- White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said he received no advanced word from Republicans that Trump Jr. would be subpoenaed, calling the lack of notice "bad form."
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted "@DonaldJTrumpJr has already spent dozens of hours testifying in front of congressional committees. Endless investigations – by either party – won't change the fact that there was NO collusion. It's time to move on. It's time to focus on issues, not investigations."
- Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted: "Serving a subpoena to Don Trump Jr. – a private citizen who voluntarily testified before three congressional committees for 25+ hours – is beyond inappropriate. He answered questions and was cleared in the Mueller report after a 2-year, unlimited investigation. It's over. Let it go."
- Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a junior senator, tweeted: "I agree with Leader McConnell: this case is closed. Dems have made it clear this is all about politics. It's time to move on and start focusing on issues that matter to Americans."
- Finally, there was the president himself, who stated he was "very surprised" to learn of the subpoena. "My son is a good person," he said. "He testified for hours and hours. My son was totally exonerated by Mueller who doesn't like Trump, me. And for my son, after being exonerated to now get a subpoena to speak again after telling everyone about a nothing meeting, I'm pretty surprised."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Burr had the power to block the subpoena. But Burr, who is retiring rather than face re-election in 2020, obviously decided to play ball with staff investigators and Democrats eager to delve further into any potential contradictions in Trump Jr.'s reams of previous testimony.
The subpoena was issued despite Burr's recent assurance he is not interested in trying to tag Trump Jr. with a perjury charge stemming from prior testimony.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Burr noted Mueller had access to Trump Jr.'s congressional testimony and did not opt to bring any charges after a two-year investigation.
"I would assume that they made a determination either that they weren't criminal or they weren't chargeable," Burr said. "I'm not interested in relitigating any of Bob Mueller's conclusions."
The obvious question: Why then demand Trump Jr. reappear for further questioning?
Trump Jr.'s involvement in the Mueller probe primarily stemmed from his role in a June 2016 meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya apparently related to opposition research potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. No information was handed over, however, and the meeting did not result in any indictments.
Another topic of possible interest to the Intelligence Committee: The Trump Tower Moscow project.
In 2017, Trump Jr. told Congress he knew "very little" about the proposal. But former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and who reported to a federal prison in New York earlier this week to begin serving a three-year sentence for tax and bank fraud, stated he briefed Trump family members on the Moscow tower project that never materialized "approximately 10" times.
The big question now is how Trump Jr. will respond to the subpoena, which comes despite an earlier offer from his legal team to submit written responses.
The widespread supposition in D.C. circles is attorneys would advise any client to avoid expounding on congressional testimony related to a matter that had already been investigated and dismissed.
One option might be for Trump Jr., to simply invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, although Democrats would surely exploit that to imply guilt.
"There is no reason for Don, Jr. to cooperate unless he is sure of the reasons to appear again," Blakeman tells Newsmax.
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