Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, asserts that Trump knew in advance about a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 between his son Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, in contradiction to Trump Jr.’s congressional testimony in May 2017, a knowledgeable source told NBC News on Thursday night.
The source told NBC News that Cohen is willing to inform Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, that Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting. Cohen’s assertion was first reported by CNN.
There’s quite a bit to this, so let’s unpack what we’ve learned through a Q&A.
Why is this a big deal?
The June 2016 meeting, in which top members of Trump’s team met with Russians in the hopes of obtaining campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton, is one of the key moments in the overall scandal. If the future president knew about the meeting in advance, and then lied about it, it would bolster collusion allegations while raising related questions about why Trump felt compelled to deceive the public.
Indeed, let’s not forget that after we first learned about the Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump Jr. issued a highly misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, and the president himself reportedly helped draft the statement, possibly implicating him in a cover-up.
Who leaked the Cohen news?
We don’t know, but it seems highly unlikely that the information came from Cohen or his lawyers. If they have important insights like these to share, Cohen, the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, would want to alert the special counsel’s office, not the media. Having this information go public may undermine Cohen’s ability to make a deal (which in turn raises the prospect of the leak having come from Trump World).
What does Trump World have to say about this?
Rudy Giuliani insisted last night that the story isn’t true and didn’t come from the president’s team. Giuliani added, in reference to Cohen, “He has lied all his life … a person who is found to be an incredible liar, he’s got a tremendous motive to lie now.”
The trouble, of course, is that those same words can fairly be applied to Giuliani’s client.
Have others said what Cohen is reportedly prepared to say?
As Jon Chait reminds us, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg also said Trump knew about the infamous meeting, and Steve Bannon, the campaign’s former chief strategist, later said something similar.
This started making the rounds on Twitter last night, but let’s not forget that on June 7, 2016 – just two days before the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians – Trump told an audience that he would deliver “a major speech” the following week with “very informative” and “very interesting” information about Hillary Clinton.
On June 9, 2016, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with the Russians, but didn’t get the kind of dirt they were hoping for. The speech Trump promised to deliver never happened.