It was two years ago this week that top members of the Trump campaign hosted a private meeting in Trump Tower with a group of Russians. The intended point of the gathering was for the future president’s operation to acquire anti-Clinton intelligence from Moscow, which Team Trump was eager to receive, bolstering allegations of cooperation between the Republican campaign and its benefactors in Moscow.
Last summer, after the meeting came to light, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement saying participants “primarily discussed” an adoption program, which was “not a campaign issue.” That statement was obviously deceptive and has reportedly drawn the interest of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The New York Times obtained a 20-page memo the president’s lawyers sent to Mueller in January, and in it, we learned quite a bit more about the author of the controversial statement.
The lawyers acknowledged that [the president] dictated a statement to The Times about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between some of his top advisers and Russians who were said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Though the statement is misleading … the lawyers call it “short but accurate.”
Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Mr. Trump, by dictating the comment, revealed that he was trying to cover up proof of the campaign’s ties to Russia – evidence that could go to whether he had the same intention when he took other actions.
This was the first time Trump World acknowledged the president’s direct role in dictating the wording of his son’s statement to the New York Times. In fact, the president’s legal team and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders specifically told the public, on multiple occasions, that Trump had nothing to do with crafting that statement. Those denials, we now know, were plainly false.
Over the course of the last year, Trump and his team have already changed their story about the purpose of the meeting – more than once – and these new revelations take the evolving narrative in an even messier direction.
Asked about the contradictions, Rudy Giuliani told ABC News yesterday, “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify. Our recollection keeps changing.”
That was unintentionally hilarious, of course, but in this case, the significance of the revelation runs much deeper.
First, if the president didn’t know anything about the Trump Tower meeting, how was he in a position to dictate a press statement on what transpired at the meeting?
Second, given how misleading the statement was, it raises the prospect of the president being personally involved in an attempted cover-up when describing one of the key moments in the overall scandal.
And finally, as an NYT analysis explained, “[A] Watergate-era precedent exists for Congress to consider lies to the public to be obstruction of justice in the looser context of impeachment proceedings. An article of impeachment that lawmakers approved against Nixon before he resigned included ‘making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing’ there had been no misconduct.”
Circling back to our previous coverage, we’re left with an awkward set of circumstances. Top members of Trump’s team tried to collude with the Putin government during Russia’s espionage operation. The president personally dictated a message intended to deceive the public about this, directly implicating Trump in an apparent a cover-up. And the president’s lawyer and chief spokesperson more than once tried to distance Trump from the deceptive statement in ways that we now know were untrue.
The next White House press briefing is bound to be interesting.