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Trump Played Key Role In Drafting False White House Statement On Trump Jr.’s Russia Meeting

Trump Russia

The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump played a direct role in writing a White House statement regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer that turned out to be utterly false:

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

(…)

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

Trump has said that the Russia investigation is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain why Clinton lost an election she should have won.

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

The White House directed all questions for this article to the president’s legal team.

One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from The Post.

Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

Sekulow’s reticence to comment now is interesting considering the fact that, when this story about the meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer, which we quickly learned also included Paul Manafot, who was Trump’s Campaign Manager at the time, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Sekulow was front and center as a member of the President’s legal team. During his numerous media appearances in the wake of those initial reports, Sekulow repeatedly denied that the President was involved in any way in the drafting of the initial White House statement regarding the meeting, which claimed that the sole purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of the adoption of Russian babies by American couples. As this report indicates, though, that claim turns out to be utterly untrue and it now appears that the President was a key player in drafting what seems to all the world to have been a willfully false statement about the nature of the meeting between his son and someone who, as we later learned, was represented to him to be a person with ties to the Russian government who had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

As noted above, issuing misleading press statements isn’t a crime, however, that doesn’t mean that this report doesn’t point to potential problems for the President and for the Administration going forward. If the report is true, for example, then it would seem to suggest that the President himself is willing to engage in what amounts to a cover-up in order to protect himself and those close to him. No doubt, this will have an impact on the direction of the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, which reportedly is already looking closely at the relationship between Russian officials and people close to Trump such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. After all, if Trump is willing to lie to the American people about the reason for a meeting that went undisclosed for more than a year then one has to wonder what other actions have taken place that may have been authorized or sanctioned by the senior Trump himself. Additionally, as Chris Cillizza notes at CNN, the revelations raise a whole host of questions that will likely be of interest not only to Mueller but also to the committees in the House and Senate that are just beginning their inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the ties between Trump officials and Russian officials or people representing the Russian government.

Given the fact that this story could only have come from someone very deep inside the White House, the very fact that it is being leaked is rather remarkable. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, for example, likens it to a cry for help from inside the White House:

In this story, they’re admitting that he is personally responsible for deliberately misleading the American people about a major topic of the Russia investigation. They’re saying that he did something that could very well be construed as a cover-up and could damage his legal defense. The reason? Because they apparently can’t prevail upon him in person and they think he simply doesn’t get what kind of jeopardy he is putting himself in.

Part of it may simply be exasperation, as well. When you, as a White House staffer, continue to have to put up with the boss’s unpredictable whims and furthering of unhelpful story lines (i.e. Russia was on my mind when I fired FBI Director James B. Comey), it’s liable to lead to this kind of leaking.

Trump will surely view this as an effort by the deep state and/or the media to undermine him. He’d be better off understanding it for what it is: a desperate effort to help him help himself. After all, in this case, the advisers were right. The truth all came out in rather short order, and Trump only made it worse.

What the real motivation for these kinds of leaks is something we can’t know for sure unless and until the leaker(s) come forward or otherwise identify themselves. At the very least, though, it’s clear that reports like this guarantee that the reports about the Russia investigation that, based on his Twitter feed alone, are clearly something that Trump is obsessed with, will not be ending anytime soon and that the investigations themselves are just beginning.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I’m betting Jared is the leaker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    “Because we are all about the orphans, Capisce?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. SenyorDave says:

    @CSK: I don’t see what Kushner would gain. I would think that Jared has a bulls eye on his back in Mueller’s investigation, since he “forgot” about more than 100 foreign contacts when he refiled his security clearance forms. Besides, I can’t imagine that he cares at all about anything other than saving his ass. He’s cut from the same cloth as Trump. I’m hoping there really is somebody deep in the administration that actually is repelled by Trump and is willing to take one for the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Franklin says:

    Wait until you folks get wind of Trump drafting fake stories about Seth Rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    It keeps coming back to this; why are you continuously lying if you haven’t done anything wrong? I mean…they lied about his role in fabricating the lie.
    Meanwhile, little Eric Trump was adorable last night on the Trump Propaganda Channel:

    “I want somebody to start fighting for him…How much weight does he have to carry by himself? My father has the voice of this country. The people of this country love him. Why wouldn’t [Republicans] get in line?”

    Poor President Snowflake…he needs someone to protect him.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    @Franklin: Wait until you folks get wind of Trump drafting fake stories about Seth Rich.

    Behind Fox News’ Baseless Seth Rich Story: The Untold Tale

    The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Mark Ivey:

    “Because we are all about the orphans, Capisce?”

    I laughed.

    Reminded me of a great flick: My Blue Heaven with Steve Matin.

    Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli: Are you trying to say capeesh?

    Barney: Yeah.

    Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli: Well don’t do it, cause it hurts my ears when you do it

    I mean, as a former Detroiter, I appreciate a good thief and con man. Done well, it’s a work of art.

    But as we can tell, this administration is more like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight … without the humor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. CSK says:

    @Franklin:

    Yes, I saw that. It seems that Wheeler, the private investigator, says that Fox News and one of Trump’s wealthy Texas backers concocted the story about Seth Rich’s murder–with the cooperation and encouragement of Trump.

    This should be very big.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  9. CSK says:

    @SenyorDave:

    As for Kushner’s motive in being the leaker: revenge? Competition? It gets Junior in trouble again, and makes him look like an even bigger sap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. CSK says:

    And a bit of minor news: Corey Lewandowski got fired from his gig on One America New Network for appearing too frequently on Fox.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. de stijl says:

    @Mark Ivey:

    Yeah. The adoption dodge is really stupid.

    Everyone knows that “adoptions” is code for Magnitzky Act sanctions.

    So their story was that they met with Russians in June 2016 to talk about easing sanctions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  12. Jen says:

    There’s definitely more than one leaker in the WH, the range of stories and the areas on which they touch indicate this.

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: I’ll admit I am baffled by the number of Trump apologists who seem to think he is getting more flack than previous presidents. It takes some magical thinking to believe that it would all be sunshine and roses for them. Unbelievable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  13. Tony W says:

    @Jen:

    getting more flack

    Particularly so when Trump himself was the one who led the charge of abusing previous presidents.

    Self-awareness is not the Trump supporter’s strong suit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  14. Joe says:

    Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations.

    This would be after the G20 Summit where Trump had the long after-dinner conversation with Putin, the one in which Trump says they discussed “adoptions.”

    Probably just a coincidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. Dino says:

    Could this Sekulow guy be any more of an incompetent fool? But I guess that’s what you get when you hire a lawyer with no criminal defense experience but plenty of christianity fee fee lawsuit experience. Sekulow might as well just put the bracelets on his client.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @de stijl:

    Everyone knows that “adoptions” is code for Magnitzky Act sanctions

    Kenin Drum has a post today What Republicans Think These Days. He quotes a YouGov poll saying that 71% of Republicans trust Trump over NYT. Pretty much the same with CNN and WAPO. 54% trust FOX over Trump. Given that FOX basically repeats all of Trump’s lies then add their own, this seems about fair to FOX.

    So no, not everyone knows about orphans/Magnitzky.

    Oddly, GOPs trust Trump over The Weekly Standard and National Review by about the same numbers as NYT. This could be because they have been anti Trump, but I suspect it’s because 90% of Republicans never heard of either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Joe says:

    @Dino:

    The real question with Sekulow was whether he knew he was lying or he was repeating the lie his client told him. If it’s the latter, a real lawyer would withdraw since his client (a) lies to him and (b) just made him look like a liar.

    Not sure we will learn anything here since I am not sure Sekulow is a real lawyer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m fairly certain this story will eventually end up revealing that Trump himself met with the Russian associates that day:

    1. He’s personally friends with a few of the people in that room. Your friend flies all the way from central Eurasia to deliver you the winning piece of information on your opponent and you aren’t going to even say hello?
    2. He doesn’t like to be overshadowed by anyone. His son, campaign manager, and son-in-law are going to rub elbows with Trump’s personal friends, friends promising damaging information direct from his hero Putin, and Trump isn’t going to be in the room/rub elbows with them? Does this sound like the Trump we know?
    3. We know Trump was in Trump Tower during the meeting. And we know his allies have already blatantly lied about that fact.
    4. While he’s been obsessed with this Russian investigation for quite awhile, pushing aside his lawyers and son-in-law to draft this response indicates he felt personally threatened. (Also, his behavior here highlights and strengthens points 1 & 2)
    5. He’s an idiot.

    Q.E.D…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

  19. Raoul says:

    1984 needs to be updated- the Ministry of Untruth will be managed directly by Big Dad- no wonder the UAE was so willing to fabricate quotes from Qatar’s emir- in two days we see Trump lying about the Russian thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. teve tory says:

    Garrett M. Graff‏Verified account
    @vermontgmg

    Can’t get over @lrozen pt: Trump had private 1 hour convo with Putin, w no US record, BEFORE he personally dictated statement on Don Jr mtg.
    6:51 PM – 31 Jul 2017

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    Oddly, GOPs trust Trump over The Weekly Standard and National Review by about the same numbers as NYT.

    That seems perfectly consistent to me — most Republicans support Trump over Stuff In Writing, regardless of source, because Writers Lie with Fake News. Only Trump tells the truth, and you can tell because he never writes anything down. (Tweets don’t count — they prove that he’s not part of the Lying Fake News Media.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Joe:

    Jay Sekulow is a scam artist who got lucky once and now uses that to create a “non-profit” which amounts to being the full employment act for his entire family.

    If Trump had any sense of the depth of the trouble he’s facing, he’d try to find the biggest pitbull of a criminal defense attorney who’s still willing to take him on as a client (the list of potential candidates isn’t long). Instead he continues with this dog and pony show.

    He’s continuing to do business like he did prior to being elected. Evidently he still believes that he can bully and lie and get by with it without people knowing all the facts. That’s just not realistic.

    At this point, resignation would be, by far, the best chance he has to escape from this acid trip with something of his business left intact. We’re now up to false statements, obstruction, tampering, suborning perjury IMO, almost certainly money laundering with a RICO enhancement, etc. That list will certainly only grow as he digs himself further into a hole.

    He won’t learn though. In all the time I’ve been acquainted with him, he never has …

    He’s about to become Bonaparte at Waterloo.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  23. Lounsbury says:

    I found this … amusing: “If the report is true, for example, then it would seem to suggest that the President himself is willing to engage in what amounts to a cover-up in order to protect himself and those close to him”

    Is there in fact any doubt at all about that already?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  24. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: Trump needs to bring in some new people. Time for some changes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  25. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Don’t you find it interesting that Kasowitz and his spokesperson have long since bailed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    Not amongst the sane.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I’ve been pushing the three part exit:

    1) Pardon. Everyone remotely connected.
    2) Resign. To avoid impeachment.
    3) Flee. New York State and the District will quite possibly file charges of their own, not to mention civil suits, subpoenas to testify, etc…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  28. CSK says:

    @Tyrell:

    That’s all Trump does–bring in “new people,” with the same crappy results.

    Look: If John Kelly is successful at bringing order to the WH, he’ll get a lot of praise. That will enrage Trump, and he’ll fire Kelly. This is why no competent defense attorney is willing to take him on as a client. If you succeed in doing your job, you enrage Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  29. Mister Bluster says:

    Time for some changes.

    Who do you have in mind Ty?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Franklin says:

    In case anybody hasn’t seen it, the White House has basically ‘fessed up to this, saying that Trump “weighed in” on Jr’s statement. But so far as I’ve seen, they’re still denying that Trump influenced the Seth Rich fake story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    I surprised they stuck it out as long as they did. Kasowitz is a slimy as they come, but he’s not stupid. The notoriety was good for him, but being disbarred & jailed would have been a career problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: Yes, we’re starting to see the circular firing squad forming.

    That’s the problem–once you start creating “fake news” and conspiracy theories there’s no end to the mess.

    I really think we should tighten up the First Amendment. Fake stories and lies should open one to legal risk much more than they do at present.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..fake stories

    Let’s start with the Bible and go from there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  34. Slugger says:

    The “it was of no consequence” remark is quite interesting. It is tantamount to a frank admission of culpability in public. Mr. Trump needs to get some real lawyers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mister Bluster: There’s the rub.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Mister Bluster says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:.. grumpy wants to “tighten up” the First Amendment, whatever that means…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mister Bluster: That brings back memories.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. gVOR08 says:

    Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup.

    Guilty or innocent is a question of fact. I would have hoped by now everyone would realize Trump doesn’t deal with facts. He doesn’t believe he’s innocent, he believes the law is for little people, he’s above the law. (This should make Mueller’s job a lot easier.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Tyrell says:

    @CSK: That was my satire thought of the day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  40. Tyrell says:

    @Mister Bluster: William Cohen,
    maybe Gates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. SenyorDave says:

    I think the scariest part of this is that 35% or so of the American public can support a POTUS who knowingly lies on a constant basis. He’s not misleading people to protect American interests, he’s not being evasive for a particular strategy, he just makes shit up whenever he feels like it. And a significant portion of the people in the country don’t have a problem with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  42. Blue Galangal says:

    @Mister Bluster: Deck chairs. Titanic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. teve tory says:

    If, as Scaramucci erred in trying to say, ‘the fish rots from the head’, bringing in ‘new people’ would be sticking new fins and a tail on a rotting fish. Not going to change the smell or lessen the Vibrio infection.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0