Russia links: Did Trump dictate son’s misleading response?

01 Aug 2017


US President Donald Trump, responding to a report in The New York Times that his son Donald Trump Jr met with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign, dictated a misleading statement for his son, The Washington Post reported on Monday evening.

Citing people with knowledge of the situation, The Post said the original plan in response to the Times' reporting was to issue a truthful statement ahead of the story, but then Trump personally decided to say Trump Jr had met with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, only to discuss adoption of Russian children by people in the US.

Trump dictated the statement while flying back to Washington from the G20 summit in Hamburg, aboard Air Force One, according to the Post report.

The original strategy agreed on by the advisors was for Donald Trump Jr to release a statement to get ahead of the NYT 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.

Flying home from Germany on 8 July, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ''primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children'' when they met in June 2016, the Post says. 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''.

One of Trump's advisers told the Post that Trump's move was "unnecessary" and warned that it opened Trump up to criticism that he was seeking to obfuscate the full truth about the meeting.

The adviser said Trump was treating the entire situation as a political problem - when it is also potentially a legal one, involving several congressional investigations and a Department of Justice special counsel probe led by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller.

According to the Post, advisers to Trump and his family said that Trump was acting as his own lawyer and disregarding the advice of experts.

Questioned by CNN about the Post story, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred it to Trump's outside counsel for a response to the report.

Jay Sekulow, an attorney for the President, issued a statement, saying, "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent."

Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Jr, told the Post he had "no evidence" to support a theory about Trump's intervention in writing the statement and described the process of crafting it as "communal".

According to an earlier CNN report, the involvement of White House aides in Trump Jr's response to the Times may have opened them up to more scrutiny from Mueller's probe. People briefed on the matter told CNN some of Trump's aides helped craft the statement while in the air.

Sekulow said at the time, "I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the President. I'm assuming that was between Mr Donald Trump Jr, between Don Jr and his lawyer."

Sources told CNN then that Marc Kasowitz, who was Trump's lead attorney at the time, handling personal legal issues, was not with the President when the statement was being crafted and was largely uninvolved.

The President's attorneys have said Trump was not aware of the meeting itself until the news emerged weeks ago, and Trump Jr said he had not told his father about the meeting when it happened.

The Times initially reported in early July that Trump Jr met with Veselnitskaya along with Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, who has a senior role in the White House, and Paul Manafort, who was campaign chair at the time, in Trump Tower in June 2016. Trump Jr responded with a statement claiming the meeting was "primarily" about adoption and its relation to US sanctions on Russia under the Magnitsky Act.

But, shortly after that first report, it was shown the initial statement was misleading. The Times reported that Trump Jr accepted the meeting in hopes that it would yield damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and Trump Jr said it had not. After the Times obtained an email chain showing an acquaintance, Rob Goldstone, offered Trump Jr a meeting where he could obtain information as part of a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign, Trump Jr posted the emails online.

Details continued to emerge about who attended the meeting and for how long. Public knowledge of who was in the room came to include Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, an executive at a company founded by the Russian oligarch who initiated the meeting.

The extent of the president's personal intervention in his son's response adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy, says the Post.

As special counsel Robert S Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers fear that the president's direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a cover-up.

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