After the public learned last year about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement to the New York Times saying participants “primarily discussed” an adoption program, which was “not a campaign issue.” That statement was obviously deceptive, and we later learned that the president himself personally dictated the dishonest wording.
Except, that’s not what Trump World told us at the time. Jay Sekulow told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” last summer that the president “was not involved in the drafting of the statement.” Sekulow told ABC News a week earlier that Trump Sr. “didn’t sign off on anything,” referring to the deceptive press release. The lawyer added, “The president wasn’t involved in that.”
So, why did Sekulow tell the public something that was completely untrue? On “This Week” yesterday, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked the member of the president’s legal defense team for an explanation. The presidential lawyer responded:
“[A]s you know, George, I was in the case at that point, what? A couple of weeks. And there was a lot of information that was gathering and as my colleague Rudy Giuliani said, I had – I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement. I’ve talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this…. Over time, facts develop.”
There’s no reason to accept “facts develop” at face value. Stories may develop, and so may excuses, but facts are simply true independently. Our understanding of facts may change, but that’s not the same thing.
That said, it’s hardly outrageous to give Sekulow the benefit of the doubt on the narrow point he conveyed yesterday. In fact, it’s quite likely that someone really did give him “bad information”; he didn’t realize the claims were false; and he presented to the public what he thought was accurate information at the time. Now he knows better.
The more salient question, however, is how exactly the president’s lawyer came to believe this “bad information” in the first place.
Indeed, if this dynamic sounds at all familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it several times before. Vice President Mike Pence, for example, has been caught repeatedly peddling falsehoods to the American public about a wide variety of issues, including the Russia scandal. When pressed for an explanation after the fact, Pence’s defense has always been the same: he didn’t know he was lying when he said things that weren’t true. The vice president, we were told to believe, was simply given bad information.
The same is true with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has developed a deeply unfortunate reputation for mendacity, and who’s been caught saying things that turned out to be wrong. Indeed, she, like Sekulow, assured the public that Trump wasn’t involved in last year’s statement on the Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Sanders specifically told reporters that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement – before Trump’s lawyers conceded that the opposite is true.
Pressed for an explanation, the White House press secretary said, “I’m an honest person who works extremely hard to provide you with accurate information at all times.” In context, it seemed clear that Sanders didn’t want to be held personally responsible for lying: someone provided her with information that turned out to be false, too.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s a very small universe of people who’ve been in a position to give the president’s lawyer, the president’s vice president, and the president’s chief spokesperson all of this “bad information.”
I wonder whom that might be.