Trump 'very surprised' at Donald Trump Jr. subpoena, blasts John Kerry at press conference
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday blasted a decision by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee to subpoena Donald Trump Jr., saying he was "very surprised" by the move.
Days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared "case closed" in the ongoing probes into the 2016 election, the GOP-led committee subpoenaed the president's son for reasons that were not immediately clear.
"I was very surprised," Trump said during impromptu press conference at the White House following an event on "surprise" medical bills that saddle patients with thousands of dollars in debt. "My son’s a very good person. My son was totally exonerated."
Trump didn’t say directly whether his son should fight the subpoena.
The president touched on several other controversial topics:
► Trump said former Secretary of State John Kerry should be "prosecuted" for meeting with Iranian officials last year. A Kerry spokesman responded by arguing that "everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story."
► The president called on Congress to address "surprise" billing at hospitals that can unexpectedly leave patients thousands of dollars in debt after their care, focusing on a bipartisan slice of a highly divisive issue. Trump said his administration would announce new steps to deal with the issue in coming weeks. As part of his speech, Trump inspected the bill of a patient who was charged nearly $18,000 for a urine test.
► Hours before a high-stakes meeting with representatives from China, Trump said he received a "beautiful letter" from Chinese President Xi Jinping and would follow up with a phone call soon.
The news of the subpoena for Trump Jr. came as tensions are escalating between Democrats and the Trump administration. On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress over his refusal to hand over an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Days before the committee issued the subpoena, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Congress to move on from the Mueller probe, declaring "case closed." But in the same speech, McConnell touched on the Intelligence Committee's ongoing work and said it would help America be ready for future threats.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., declined to answer questions at the Capitol Thursday. But other Republicans on the committee were quick to make a distinction between their investigation and Mueller’s, and to downplay the subpoena.
“Mueller’s was a criminal justice investigation. Ours is an intelligence investigation about the Russia threat and about the way our agencies performed,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, also on the Intelligence Committee, said she thought the committee was “doing a good job” probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, seemed to suggest that the committee merely wants to review its information with Trump Jr. and said he hopes the president’s eldest son would reconsider appearing before the committee.
Blunt said the key takeaway was that Burr had found no evidence of collusion, and suggested the chairman was “just trying to be sure that everybody’s asked all the questions” needed before proceeding.
“I don’t think there’s any possibility that any of those questions would change the conclusion,” Blunt added.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and former chairwoman, said Burr issuing the subpoena was "the right thing to do."
The California Democrat said she didn’t “want to create a lightning rod” by specifically saying what the committee would do if Trump Jr. avoided the subpoena. But she said the committee would "exercise" its options.
Trump continued to blast the special counsel's probe on Thursday, a day after he asserted executive privilege for the first time in his presidency to block House Democrats from receiving the full Mueller report along with supporting evidence.
The president declined to answer directly whether he would allow Mueller to testify before Congress, saying he would "leave that up to our very great attorney general.”
Trump dismissed Democratic efforts to subpoena additional information, echoing the message pushed by the White House in recent days that the moves "look like a redo" of Mueller's probe. Democrats say they are fulfilling their oversight responsibilities. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has blasted the White House for refusing to comply with subpoenas, describing the situation as a "constitutional crisis." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday she agreed with Nadler.
Donald Trump Jr., then an adviser to the Trump campaign, met a Russian lawyer who had promised damaging information about Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. enthusiastically accepted the 2016 meeting after he was told the session was the idea of the "crown prosecutor of Russia," the report says.
The president's allies in Congress quickly fanned out to defend Trump Jr.
“I believe it’s time to move on,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Thursday.
“I think they have it wrong.”
McCarthy avoided a question about what Trump Jr. should do, but he said the committee should “re-look at” their subpoena.
Trump ally and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., called the subpoena of the president's son "beyond inappropriate."
"He answered questions and was cleared in the Mueller report after a 2 year, unlimited investigation," he said on Twitter.
But not everyone was so quick to criticize.
The subpoena came up when Senate Republicans met for lunch. After most rank-and-file lawmakers walked out they did their best to avoid the topic, saying they trusted Burr’s decision.
“I have great confidence in our chairman and he’ll figure out what we have to do,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told USA TODAY.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee is so secret that I shouldn’t even talk about it. And there isn’t much I know about it anyway,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said.
Contributing: Kristine Phillips and Christal Hayes of USA TODAY