When the New York Times initially asked Donald Trump Jr. for comment on a meeting he had set up with a Russian lawyer last summer, the president’s son gave them a statement that was so incomplete it was downright misleading.
Now we know why: His father told him to.
That’s according to a detailed new Washington Post report reconstructing the Trump team’s internal deliberations earlier this month about how candidly they should describe the meeting in question.
Reporters Ashley Parker, Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, and Tom Hamburger write that, according to “multiple people with knowledge of the campaign,” Trump advisers initially planned for Trump Jr. to issue a more forthcoming public statement — but this plan was scrapped by the president himself.
Instead, they write, Trump “personally dictated” a response that left out many key facts about the meeting — most notably, that it was set up with the promise that Trump Jr. would get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that the person setting it up claimed it would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
The misleading statement the president crafted read:
“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 that 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.” — Donald Trump Jr.
This attempt to deceive backfired, and led to further leaks of details that seemed all the more damning because they weren’t disclosed initially. It only took three days until the full email chain in which Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting leaked to the Times (which spurred Trump Jr. to preemptively post it on Twitter).
It’s not against the law for a politician to give a misleading public statement, but this revelation is particularly interesting in light of larger questions about whether the president has been trying to obstruct justice and interfere with the Russia investigation. (The Post’s sources appear to have the impression that Trump genuinely thinks he’s innocent and that he has nothing to cover up.)
In any case, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will likely take an interest in this. CNN reported last week that Mueller had sent a request to the White House to preserve documents not only about the Trump Jr. meeting itself, but about “any decisions made regarding the recent disclosures about the June 2016 meeting.”
The broader takeaway from the Post’s story, though, is that the Trump team’s repeated deceptions on Russia scandal-related matters aren’t merely due to incompetence. At least in this case, deception was part of a deliberate strategy set from the top down by the president itself.