In a hearing that we imagine will provide much of the leaked fodder for CNN and MSNBC news coverage over the coming week (certainly once leaked copies of the testimony are distributed to the NSA’s favorite media outlets, WaPo and NYT), CNN reports that Donald Trump Jr. has agreed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed session.
This wouldn’t be Trump Jr.’s first meeting with one of the Congressional committees that are investigating Russian meddling in last year’s election: He met with Senate Judiciary Committee staff back in September, but angered Democratic lawmakers when he declined to testify publicly. Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal famously accused Trump of leaving “gaps” in his testimony, and said the only way to remedy the situation would be for the president’s son to testify publicly.
Lawmakers who will be present at the Dec. 6 meeting are reportedly hoping to ask Trump more questions about the infamous “Trump Tower meeting” with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and her entourage – a meeting that Trump admitted he took because he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. However, by all accounts, Veselnitskaya never had any intention of giving him any such information. Members of the committee recently interviewed several members of Veselnitskaya’s entourage, including Anatoli Samochornov, a translator who attended the meeting.
According to CNN, Trump’s appearance will be one of the most anticipated events yet of the investigation, particularly following recent revelations of Twitter correspondence he had with WikiLeaks during the campaign season (as a reminder, the extent of his correspondence was exchanging three messages with whomever runs the Wikileaks twitter account.)
Furthermore, the meeting with Trump will cap off a week of hearings involving high-profile Trump associates including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Blackwater founder (and brother to Education Secretary Betsy Devos) Erik Prince.
Prince famously met with a Russian in the Seychelles to set up a purported back-channel between Russia and the Trump White House. Prince denied that was the purpose of the meeting and has said that he was there on behalf of Trump.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican who is leading the House investigation, said Tuesday night that the committee had interviews with key witnesses scheduled through mid-December. He predicted the investigation would continue into next year and even expressed skepticism that it would conclude by the beginning of the midterm primary season in early 2018.
“No,” Conaway said when asked if his panel would issue a report summarizing its findings by year’s end. “That would be a surprise.”
Trump Jr.’s lawyer refused to confirm the report with CNN. If the committee’s previous conduct during its investigation is any guide, Democratic members hoping to discredit Trump will swiftly leak the most damaging excerpts from his testimony.
Furthermore, if Republican senators do manage to pass their tax reform bill, a well-timed Russia leak could help Democrats distract from the first Republican legislative victory of the Trump era (however, if Trump tax reform stalls, the focus on “Russia collusion” could be a welcome distraction from the complete failure of Trump’s legislative agenda).
Finally, with over a year of president Trump, it is likely that viewers have gotten some Trump “burn in” by now; and yet few things can still drum up Nielsen ratings quite like a chyron with the words “Russia” and “Trump” as MSNBC knows all too well.