WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “very surprised” the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed his eldest son Donald Trump Jr. for follow-up questioning after the release of the Mueller report.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, also touched on escalating tensions with Iran, his outlook on trade negotiations with China and stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea in a nearly hourlong news conference that was initially organized to tout proposed legislation to protect consumers from unexpected medical charges.
The president continued to take aim at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, questioning Mueller’s objectivity, even as he embraced Mueller’s final report, describing it as “the bible,” and claiming it “exonerated” his son.
Trump, who in a tweet last Sunday called on Mueller not to testify before Congress, insisted on Thursday he would leave the decision up to Attorney General William Barr, who has previously said he has no objections.
Asked about the subpoena to his son, Trump said: “I was very surprised ... my son’s a very good person. Works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, D.C.”
The committee, led by Sen. Richard Barr (R-N.C.), is reportedly seeking to question Trump Jr. about his closed-door testimony to the panel in December 2017.
Trump Jr., who has publicly acknowledged meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked attorney who offered “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton, reportedly told the committee that he did not inform his father about the meeting. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, in sworn testimony cited in the Mueller report, said Trump Jr. did notify his father about the meeting.
Though Trump said the Mueller report “exonerated” his son, the report did not make such an assertion. The report states that Mueller’s team declined to charge Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign aides who attended the June 2016 meeting because of the challenge of proving that they were “willfully” aware they were violating federal laws barring foreign campaign contributions and assistance.
The report states the investigation did not develop “evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban.”
The Senate panel is also reportedly interested in talking to Trump Jr. about his involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project. Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 he was only "peripherally aware" of the proposal, but Cohen testified to the House Oversight Committee earlier this year that he briefed Trump Jr. at least 10 times about the project before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, who has refused to comply with a host of congressional subpoenas issued by House Democrats in the wake of the Mueller report, said “we’ll see what happens” when asked if Trump Jr. would contest the subpoena.
On other topics, Trump said he has not ruled out the possibility of military action in Iran amid escalating tensions between the two nations. The White House announced on Sunday that it had deployed a U.S. aircraft carrier to the Middle East in response to "troubling and escalatory indications” that Iran was preparing attacks on U.S. troops in the region.
“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump said Thursday.
Trump also said former Secretary of State John Kerry should face federal prosecution for speaking with Iranian officials and for publicly criticizing Trump’s policies toward Iran.
Trump accused the Obama-era official and former Democratic presidential nominee of violating the Logan Act, a centuries-old law that prohibits unauthorized Americans from negotiating with foreign governments that are in conflict with the United States. Kerry, who helped broker the multinational Iran Nuclear Deal, has been critical of Trump’s withdrawal from the accord.
Kerry’s spokesman Matt Summers in a statement said: "everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story."
Trump said he expected “a very strong day” of trade talks Thursday between top Chinese and U.S. officials meeting in Washington, despite recent setbacks. Last week, China abruptly called for a series of changes to a tentative trade deal drafted by both sides, prompting Trump to threaten to increase existing tariffs on Chinese products coupled with new tariffs.
“We were getting very close to a deal then they started to renegotiate the deal. We can’t have that,” Trump said.
Asked about a recent round of missile testing in North Korea, Trump who has twice met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said “the relationship continues … but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”