WASHINGTON — The White House acknowledged Tuesday that President Donald Trump helped his eldest son craft a statement responding to last month’s revelation that the younger Trump had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.
“The president weighed in — as any father would — based on the limited information that he had,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, effectively confirming the premise of a Washington Post report about the president’s role in developing the narrative.
She wouldn’t elaborate on the degree to which Trump aided his son. “He certainly didn’t dictate,” she said, adding that he “offered a suggestion.”
The statement from Donald Trump Jr. proved to be an incomplete version of events. In it, he said the group “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children . . . but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
The statement was provided July 8 to The New York Times as the outlet was preparing to publish a report about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.
Trump Jr. was forced three days later — as The Times was about to publish a follow-up story about the meeting’s contents — to disclose that he was lured by the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton gathered by the Kremlin.
The Post reported late Monday that Trump’s advisers had been planning for Trump Jr. to release the full story so he couldn’t be repudiated later when more details emerged. The president changed the plan, according to The Post’s anonymous sources, and personally dictated the statement as he flew home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One.
The oldest of the Trump children had come under scrutiny for his meeting with the lawyer and other Russian contacts as investigations continue into Kremlin attempts to influence last year’s election. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.
Trump and his aides have denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
The president and Trump Jr. have defended the son’s hosting of the meeting as something anyone would do in the heat of a campaign: seek out opposition research.
Sanders sought Tuesday to reject that Trump Jr.’s initial statement — written with guidance from the president — was misleading.
She also cast Russia-related storylines as Democratic attempts to delegitimize Trump’s election victory.
“Look, the statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There’s no inaccuracy in the statement,” she said.
“Everybody wants to try to make this some story about misleading,” Sanders said. “The only thing I see misleading is a year’s worth of stories that have been fueling a false narrative about this Russia collusion and based — a phony scandal based on anonymous sources.”
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is probing Russian interference, tweeted Tuesday of The Post story: “If true, report that @POTUS dictated Don Jr’s initial statement on meeting w/ Russians shows a troubling willingness & intention to mislead.”
Also Tuesday, Sanders said Trump had not yet signed a bipartisan bill expanding sanctions on Russia delivered to his desk last week because it is going through a review process.
The legislation, approved by Republicans and Democrats, would impose penalties against the Kremlin for its interference in last year’s election and military aggression toward Ukraine. It also levies sanctions against Iran and North Korea for ballistic missile development.