It's been a few weeks since the New York Times first learned of a campaign meeting between top members of Donald Trump's inner circle and Russian nationals at Trump Tower last year. At the time, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement saying participants "primarily discussed" an adoption program, which was "not a campaign issue."
The statement omitted the fact that the point of the meeting was for Team Trump to acquire information from the Russian government, which had offered to provide dirt to Republicans about Hillary Clinton.
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.
The plan changed because the president changed it. In fact, Trump Sr. reportedly dictated the statement's language, making him directly responsible for misleading the public about a Trump campaign meeting with Russian nationals.
Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration's leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, told the Post, "The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president. They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem.... What they don't seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them."
Making matters just a little worse, a member of the president's outside legal team specifically denied what now appears to be true.
Jay Sekulow, who was a prominent attorney in the religious right movement before joining Team Trump, specifically told NBC News' "Meet the Press" that the president "was not involved in the drafting of the statement." Sekulow told ABC 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."
Those denials now appear to be at odds with the latest revelations.
And so, we're left with an awkward set of circumstances. Top members of Trump's team tried to collude with the Russian government during its espionage operation. The president personally dictated a message intended to deceive the public, directly participating in a cover-up. And the president's lawyer more than once tried to distance Trump from the deceptive statement, in ways that were apparently untrue.
Trump World has some explaining to do.