Donald Trump called a senior Republican senator from Iowa on Wednesday whose congressional committee is investigating his son, Donald Trump Jr, and promised him critical federal support for the biofuel ethanol, a key issue for the lawmaker.
Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee and a major advocate of the ethanol industry, announced on Twitter that he had received a phone call from Trump and had been assured by the US president that Trump was “pro ethanol” and was “standing by his campaign promise” to support the biofuel.
The phone call came less than a day after CNN reported that Trump’s eldest son had reached an agreement with the committee to appear in a private session and answer investigators’ questions. The committee, which has oversight of the Department of Justice, is investigating a 2016 meeting that occurred in Trump Tower before November’s election. During the meeting, Trump Jr and other campaign staff met with Russian operatives after being promised compromising information about the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
The interview with investigators could take place in the next few weeks, according to CNN.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what prompted the president to call Grassley and promise him support for ethanol – a vital issue for Grassley’s home state – or whether the two discussed Grassley’s oversight of the committee’s Russia probe.
In a second tweet, Grassley said that the US president “knows that ethanol is good good good”.The Iowa senator did not divulge any additional details about Trump’s promise or whether it represented a shift in White House energy policy. Trump, like many US politicians in the throes of presidential campaigns, was a vocal advocate of the ethanol industry while he was campaigning in Iowa, a top corn-producing state.
A spokesman for Grassley said by email: “The president called Senator Grassley and talked briefly about ethanol. It was a two-minute conversation. Senator Grassley told the president he was glad to hear him voice his support for ethanol and that he would tweet about it to the people of Iowa. Nothing more specific about ethanol policies came up. The other topics that came up were Hurricane Harvey and Ambassador Branstad in China.”
Terry Branstad, a former governor of Iowa, is Trump’s new ambassador to China.
Trump reaffirmed his support for ethanol producers in a speech in June in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, saying he would save “your ethanol industries … just like I promised to do in my campaign”.
It is not clear, however, how Trump will make good on his promise to Grassley. Bloomberg reported in June that US ethanol producers were concerned that oil industry lobbyists who oppose important biofuel mandates could hold sway over Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, one of the regulatory bodies that sets important standards on the use of biofuel.
Grassley has emerged as an important potential ally for the US president given his position on the judiciary committee, one of several congressional committees that is investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Last week, investigators on the committee interviewed Glenn Simpson, a former journalist and head of GPS Fusion, a private investigative firm in Washington that produced a controversial dossier detailing alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
The dossier was written by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, and is believed to be a significant area of interest in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian interference in the US election last year.
Grassley said in a town hall meeting in Iowa last week that he would consider sharing a transcript of investigators’ closed-door questioning of Simpson, which lasted for ten hours.
Grassley was asked about it at a town hall meeting and said he would put the matter to a committee vote.
“I presume that [the transcript] will be released,” Grassley said, according to an account in the Washington Examiner.
The timing of the president’s call is most noteworthy because it came just as the committee’s forthcoming interview of Trump Jr was publicly confirmed. A specific date has not yet been released, but investigators are expected to question the president’s son about the nature of a 2016 meeting, which Trump Jr attended after being promised he would obtain compromising information about the Clinton campaign.
The meeting was attended by Paul Manafort, Trump’s then campaign manager, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer.
The president’s son has said he was only promised compromising information about Clinton, but that he never received it. Instead, Trump Jr insisted that Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss changes to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, a law passed by Barack Obama that infuriated Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and was designed to punish Russia for the 2009 prison death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The 2016 meeting continues to be a critical area of focus of congressional investigators.