‘Totally legal and done all the time’
President Trump acknowledged via tweet that a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among his eldest son, campaign aides and a Russian attorney aimed to “get information on an opponent” — contradicting statements made by the president’s team last year that insisted it was held merely to discuss the issue of Russian adoptions.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” Trump tweeted following reports by CNN and The Washington Post on Saturday describing the president’s recent mood over the Mueller probe. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
The president’s tweet, confirming that Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign aides met with Kremlin-linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya for the purpose of collecting political dirt on Hillary Clinton, comes as special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly focusing on the meeting as part of his ongoing probe into Russian election interference.
Evolution of an explanation
Mueller and his team now have a list of changing statements from the Trump camp on the meeting.
On July 8, 2017, faced with a New York Times story that revealed the existence of meeting, Trump helped dictate a statement that was later released by his son, in which Don Jr. claimed the meeting was mainly focused on the issue of Russian adoptions that had come to a halt.
“It was a short introductory meeting . . . primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” Don Jr. wrote at the time.
A day later, faced with a follow-up Times story indicating the meeting’s purpose was to discuss damaging information Veselnitskaya had offered on Clinton. Don Jr. said “her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Three days later, Don Jr. tweeted screenshots of his emails with an intermediary who promises the Russian attorney has documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
Don Jr. replies: “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
‘Over time facts develop’
Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow defended the president’s Twitter statement, even as the lawyer had to acknowledge he had not been forthright a year earlier in telling reporters Trump had no role in drafting Don Jr.’s initial statement on the meeting.
“I had bad information at that time and made a mistake. . . . Over time, facts develop,” Sekulow said when asked about the changing storyline on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sekulow pushed back when asked by host George Stephanopoulos about the legality of meeting with a foreign individual promising political dirt aimed at impacting the outcome of the election.
“The question is, how would it be illegal?” Sekulow said. “The real question here is would a meeting of that nature . . . constitute a violation of the law. . . . The question is what law, statute or rule or regulation has been violated, and nobody has pointed to one.”
Stephanopoulos noted that attorneys and lawmakers have cited several laws that could have been violated, including “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
For more, read Scott Eidler and Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s Sunday show roundup here.
Janison: Manafort’s shadow
As Paul Manafort’s trial on a host of financial fraud charges continues, can we expect more tweets from the president about his former campaign chairman, like his missive comparing Manafort’s treatment to that of Al Capone?
Trump has sought to distance himself from Manafort, downplaying his nearly six-month-long stint heading the president’s campaign. The president has also questioned how the current list of charges against Manafort related to his work for the former pro-Russia leader of Ukraine are tied to Mueller’s investigation on Russian election interference.
“Where is the Russian collusion?” Trump tweeted last week.
See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday for more about the shadow Manafort’s trial is casting on a president already besieged by scandals.
What else is happening:
- Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who survived a drone-enabled assassination attempt on Saturday, has called on Trump to “fight” against those behind the attempt. Maduro has placed blame on unnamed Venezuelans living in Florida. Read more here via the New York Post.
- A former member of Trump’s voter fraud commission is speaking out against the panel, describing the commission as “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been a part of,” according to The Washington Post.
- Trump continued his attacks on the news media Sunday, this time on Twitter, claiming “they can also cause War!” Newsday’s Eidler reports on Sunday’s latest tweets.
- Trump’s recent tweet berating basketball player LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon reignited criticisms of the president’s racial rhetoric and resurfaced criticism of his response to last August’s deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, reports Politico.