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Trump discredits his own story about infamous Russia meeting

It's a tough question to get around: if the Trump campaign's June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians was benign, why lie about it?
Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House
epa06901336 US President Donald J. Trump walks on the South Lawn to depart the White House by Marine One, in Washington, DC, USA, 20 July 2018. Trump travels...

It's easy to forget, but the original line from Team Trump was that no one associated with the campaign had any communications with Russia during the country's attack on our 2016 elections. We've come a long way since then.

President Donald Trump said Sunday that the meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was "to get information on an opponent," seemingly contradicting a statement from more than a year ago that the meeting focused on a Russian adoption program. [...]"This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics -- and it went nowhere," he tweeted, defending the meeting and appearing to refer to political opposition research done by campaigns.

The tough part is knowing where to start. Let's first note that it's not at all common for American presidential campaigns to welcome assistance from foreign adversaries. The president may choose to believe this is "done all the time," but this isn't even close to being true. (In the not-too-distant past, when foreign adversaries have offered to help presidential candidates, those candidates not only refused the offers; they also reported the outreach to the FBI. Trump did not.)

Second, the idea that conspiring with Russia to interfere in an American election is "totally legal" is a rather dubious proposition.

But even putting these details aside, let's not miss the forest for the trees: Donald Trump admitted yesterday that top members of his campaign team sought assistance from Moscow during Russia's attack, discrediting Trump World's previous claims about the June 2016 meeting.

Indeed, last summer, Donald Trump Jr. issued a press statement about the meeting -- a statement we later learned was dictated by the president personally -- describing the 2016 discussion as being focused on Russian adoptions. Even at the time, the story seemed absurd, but that was the official line from Trump and his team.

Yesterday, the president, whether he intended to or not, acknowledged that the original explanation for the gathering wasn't true. In fact, Trump has now admitted -- in writing -- that his political operation wanted to "get information" from Putin's government that the Republican campaign hoped to use to win an election.

Circling back to our previous coverage, that leaves us with an awkward set of circumstances. Top members of Trump's team tried to collude with the Putin government during a Russian espionage operation. The president personally dictated a message intended to deceive the public about this, directly implicating Trump in an apparent a cover-up. In the weeks and months that followed, top members of the president's team -- including his lawyer and White House press secretary -- tried to distance Trump from the deceptive statement in ways that we now know weren't true.

The core question that's tough to escape is entirely straightforward: why lie?

If the infamous Trump Tower meeting was, to use the president's phrasing, "totally legal" and the sort of thing that happens "all the time," why not tell the truth about what transpired from the beginning? If this is much ado about nothing, why launch a coordinated effort, involving multiple people acting over the course of several months, to deceive the public?

What's more plausible: that the president and his team lied repeatedly for no reason, or they lied repeatedly because they recognize the seriousness of deliberately seeking election interference from a foreign adversary?

* Postscript: If Trump's tweet yesterday seemed familiar, there's a reason. The New York Times' report explained that in mid-July 2017, Trump "posted a tweet similar to the one he wrote on Sunday morning: 'Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!' But his administration at the time was sticking to the adoption story line, with his press secretary, Sean Spicer, saying later that day there was no evidence that anything but that topic had been discussed during the meeting."

That official version of events seemed to take a turn yesterday.