Trump personally crafted son’s misleading account of Russia meeting report
Trump reportedly dictated statement which gave distorted version of Trump Tower encounter aboard Air Force One on return from G20 summit
President Trump personally dictated the press statement issued in the name of his eldest son that misleadingly downplayed the significance of a 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer, a new report alleged on Monday night.
According to the Washington Post, Trump personally intervened to prevent senior White House advisers from issuing a full and truthful account of the meeting on 9 June 2016 in which Donald Trump Jr, the presidents son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort came face-to-face with four Russians. One of the Russian visitors was the well-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The report, based on multiple though largely anonymous sources that included the presidents own advisers, has the potential to cause political, and even legal, trouble for the White House because it draws Trump himself much closer into the fray over the Trump Tower meeting, which has become a lightning rod in the Russian affair.
Shunning the guidance of lawyers, and overturning the view apparently reached by Kushner and his team of advisers that a full and frank accounting should be made, Trump reportedly dictated a statement on board Air Force One as he was flying back to Washington from the G20 summit in Germany. As would soon become apparent, it gave a very partial and distorted account of events.
In the release the 2016 meeting was presented, in Trumps own words, as a short introductory meeting dominated by discussion of the adoption of Russian children that was not a campaign issue at the time.
That statement was presented to the New York Times on 8 July, and duly included in the newspapers first account of the meeting. But within 24 hours, highly damaging revelations had emerged that made clear the meeting had been much more charged than that.
On 9 July, the Times revealed that Donald Jr had been lured into talking to Veselnitskaya by the promise of negative intelligence on his fathers presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, and two days after that the email chain was published that showed the younger Trump reveling in the idea of receiving dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate, uttering the gleeful phrase: I love it.
The Trump Tower meeting has proved to be one of the most toxic pieces of information to emerge so far in the billowing investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russia in the Kremlins efforts to skew the presidential outcome in favor of the Republican nominee. The special counsel leading the investigation, Robert Mueller, is understood to be looking closely at the event and has reportedly asked the White House to preserve all documents relating to it.
Until now, the president managed to keep some distance from the 9 June encounter, with his lawyers claiming that he knew nothing about it. But the new report that Trump personally oversaw the issuing of a misleading account of the proceedings raises questions about the presidents role in what could be conceived as a cover-up.
It comes as Mueller has already expanded his inquiry to include the issue of whether or not Trump was engaging in a possible obstruction of justice when he fired James Comey, having tried and failed to persuade the then director of the FBI to back off investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynns contacts with Russian officials.
A lawyer for the president issued the Washington Post with a curt statement: Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent, Jay Sekulow said.
The new details of the presidents role in what turned out to be a major communications fiasco come on the day that his current communications chief, Anthony Scaramucci, was dismissed from the White House after barely 11 days. The blunt removal was made on the first day of the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who has vowed to introduce the kind of discipline that the West Wing has been sorely lacking.
The day began shortly before 5.30am with Trump tweeting No WH chaos! and ended with him saying: A great day at the White House. But as the Washington Posts forensic deconstruction of the framing of the Trump Tower meeting shows, the president himself has the capacity to destroy even the best-laid plans, underlining the task now facing his new chief of staff.
According to the Post, senior White House officials together with the circle around Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, had spent days rehearsing various ways to address the Trump Tower meeting publicly.
Kushners team was reported to have decided that it was better to err on the side of transparency because the whole truth would eventually come out.
President Trump, however, appeared to have seen things differently.