The 5 key questions on Trump's role in his son's statement on the Russia meeting
Posted August 1
The Washington Post dropped an absolute bombshell on Monday night: President Donald Trump dictated the initial statement from his son, Don Jr., regarding a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer and publicist Rob Goldstone, who had promised the younger Trump dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign courtesy of the Russian government.
Here's the key piece of the Post reporting:
"Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had 'primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children' when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to The New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was 'not a campaign issue at the time.'"
That statement was revealed, in short order, to be heavily misleading. Emails released by Trump Jr. between he and Goldstone showed that the impetus for the meeting was the promise of "incriminating" information on Clinton.
That Trump, according to the Post, was the author of the original statement raises lots -- and lots -- of questions. Here are five of them.
1. What did Trump know when?
This is the central question raised by the Post's new report. Trump -- through his lawyers -- has cast himself as totally clueless about the meeting on June 9, 2016 between Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Goldstone, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a translator and Ike Kaveladze, a senior vice president at the company founded by the Russian oligarch who initiated the meeting.
"The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting," Mark Corallo, who was handling press for all things Russia-related, said at the time. (Corallo later resigned.)
But, if Trump really was unaware of the meeting, then how did he dictate Trump Jr.'s statement on the meeting? He knew enough to say that the meeting was "primarily" about adoption policy, right? Did Don Jr. brief the President on the meeting? When? And, how much did he tell his dad? Did he mention that in emails setting up the meeting, Goldstone made clear that there was "incriminating" information about Clinton on offer?
2. Why did Trump attorney Jay Sekulow say Trump had nothing to do with the statement?
"I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the President," Sekulow told CNN's Chris Cuomo last month. So, um, what now? Sekulow, in a statement released to the Post on Monday night, said this: "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent."
That statement isn't a full-scale denial or an attempt to offer a differing storyline. Or to explain why Sekulow said Trump had no involvement in the drafting of the statement. Did Trump not tell Sekulow? Did Sekulow not ask? If he asked, did Trump tell him less than the full truth?
3. How did Trump construct such a carefully-worded statement?
Here's the full statement Don Jr. put out in response to the New York Times' initial reporting about the June 2016 meeting:
"It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand."
There's a whole lot of misleading done in that statement. But, no actual lying. The use of the word "primarily" to describe the main focal point of the meeting doesn't preclude the fact that other things came up. And, it's true that Russian adoption policy was "not a campaign issue at the time" -- nor did it become one. What the statement conveniently leaves out is that the reason for the meeting was a promise via Goldstone of Russian-supplied negative information about Clinton. Which is a big thing to leave out.
That Trump a) did dictate the statement and b) was totally clueless about the nature of the June meeting simply doesn't wash. No one with such limited knowledge of what actually happened in the meeting could come up with a statement so nuanced and careful.
4. Why did Don Jr.'s lawyer say they "were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement" about the meeting?
According to the Post reporting, the plan was for "Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the [Times] story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn't be repudiated later if the full details emerged."
But, according to the Post, the President himself called an audible, dictating the statement that was eventually released -- a far less forthcoming one that had to be changed multiple times in the days following its release. Trump Jr.'s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, said in a statement to the Post that his client was "fully" and "absolutely" prepared to make a "fulsome" statement. That line seems to suggest that something -- or someone -- stopped that more-forthcoming statement from being released. What or who was it?
5. Why did Trump feel the need to weigh in?
This is a basic question -- but an important one. Trump knew, by the time he reportedly dictated this statement on behalf of his son, that the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller was well under way. And he knew, at least according to fired FBI Director James Comey, that when the two men last spoke, Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation.
So then why involve himself in this Russia meeting in any way, shape or form? Why not just leave it alone, given that you are the President of the United States and that your son is a grown man? Why risk being dragged into this morass by not only dictating a statement but doing so on Air Force One?