FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump Jr. gives a television interview at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mark...

The White House treats Donald Trump Jr. as part of the team


NBC News’ First Read team published a good piece this morning, noting four essential questions related to this week’s Trump-Russia scandal revelations. Among the most notable is the one the White House didn’t want to answer yesterday: “Why does Jared Kushner still have a security clearance?”

The challenge, of course, is knowing where to stop once the questions start. For example, I’d also like to know why White House aides and the president are involved in Donald Trump Jr.’s public-relations strategies.

The New York Times reported today on Trump World’s response to the newspaper’s reporting on last summer’s meeting with the Russian lawyer offering campaign assistance from Moscow. The article noted that Trump Jr. issued a written response over the weekend, but he wasn’t its author.

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions. […]

The original statement, drafted aboard Air Force One by advisers and then approved by Mr. Trump, said only that the Russian lawyer had discussed adoption policy during the meeting, without mentioning that the meeting had been offered as a chance to provide information about Mrs. Clinton’s dealings with Russia. Only after The Times followed up in preparation for another article did the younger Mr. Trump issue a second statement acknowledging that.

We’ve noted this week that it’s of interest that Trump Jr.’s story changed from one day to the next, which is an automatic red flag. But what we didn’t know is how that story was crafted in the first place.

Let’s not forget that Donald Trump Jr. is ostensibly helping run the president’s business venture, and he’s supposed to be keeping politics at arm’s length. The evidence to the contrary is obviously overwhelming, but in theory, there is no formal relationship between the White House and the president’s oldest son.

At a certain level, that distance may even benefit Team Trump in its response to this week’s revelations: aides are in a position to say Trump Jr. is a private citizen, not a member of the administration.

But if the New York Times is correct in today’s reporting, there is no meaningful distinction between the president’s team and the president’s son. White House aides helped write a statement for Trump Jr., and his father personally approved it – a dynamic that suggests the president and his aides played a direct role in releasing a deceptive statement to the press about a burgeoning political scandal.

If the White House has an explanation for this, I’ll be eager to hear it.