Donald Trump Jr has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee for one simple reason. Senate Republicans, seeking to avoid the no-win scenario of having to vote on whether or not to hold Donald Trump’s son in contempt, decided to not-so-subtly push Junior into agreeing to testify. Trump Jr now has three options. None of them are good for him, but they’re even worse for his father.
Donald Trump Jr’s first option would be to repeat the Trump-Russia lies to the Senate Intelligence Committee he already told under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This would result in Republican Chairman Richard Burr referring him to the DOJ for criminal prosecution for perjury. Attorney General William Barr would block Junior from being charged for now. But the dominant political narrative would be that Donald Trump’s son is under criminal investigation in relation to the Trump-Russia scandal. That would be a bodyblow to Trump’s “no collusion” mantra.
Trump Jr’s second option would be to admit to the Senate Intel Committee that his previous statements under oath were false, and essentially beg for mercy. This could result in Richard Burr deciding not to refer him for prosecution for his previous perjury. But then the dominant political narrative would be that Donald Trump’s son admitted to having lied to try to cover up the Trump-Russia scandal. Again, a bodyblow to Trump.
Trump Jr’s third option would be to show up to the hearing, only to plead the Fifth in response to questions about Russia. Legally speaking, invoking the Fifth Amendment is not an indicator of guilt; you can still take the legal position that you’re innocent, and that you fear your words would be used to build a false case against you. But most people among the general public don’t know or care about that. The dominant political narrative would be Donald Trump’s son just admitted that the Trump-Russia election conspiracy was a criminal plot.
These three scenarios would all be ugly for Donald Trump Jr in a legal sense, but they’d be even uglier for Donald Trump in a political sense – at a time when he can least afford it. The only real debate here would be which of these three outcomes would hurt Trump the most.
By the way, despite the media hype about Donald Trump Jr’s testimony being “limited” and part of a “compromise,” the details reveal that this is not what really happened. The Senate Intel Committee got its way on Junior testifying in person, not in writing. And while the hearings will be limited to specific topics, they’re the precise topics that Junior was subpoenaed over to begin with. Also, while this hearing will be in private, Burr was never attempting to hold this hearing in public; the Intel Committees more often hold their hearings in private. These “concessions” allow Junior to save face and pretend he didn’t cave, and nothing more.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report