It’s become inescapably clear that Donald Trump Jr. met in June 2016 with a Kremlin-affiliated lawyer because he’d been promised information damaging to Hillary Clinton — information that he’d been told was being provided as part of a Russian government effort to “help Mr. Trump.”
We know this because of an email chain Trump Jr. released, along with a statement, on Tuesday. But his previous statements on the matter consistently minimized the importance of the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, and they painted an inconsistent picture, at best, of the contents of the meetings. His story has changed dramatically from Saturday until now. Here’s how it evolved.
Before this weekend: no meetings “were set up” with Russians
The initial Times scoop reporting Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya, published July 8, dug up what Trump Jr. said about campaign contacts with Russia in March 2017. At that time, he told the Times that a) no meetings with Russians had been “set up” (“none that I can think of at the moment,” at least); b) that he did not represent the Trump campaign in any meeting with Russians; and c) that he had not discussed government policies related to Russia:
Donald Trump Jr. had denied participating in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals when he was interviewed by The Times in March. “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”
The first of those claims was proven false by the revelation about Trump Jr.’s role in accepting the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
The second was proven wrong by the emails Trump Jr. released on Tuesday, which show him enthusiastic about “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” being provided as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
The third was contradicted by Trump Jr. himself in his first explanation of the meeting, on Saturday, when he claimed that he’d met to discuss adoption policy.
Saturday: just a “short introductory meeting” about adoption policy
When the Times broke the story of Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya, he admitted the meeting had taken place — but averred that it was “primarily” about “a program about the adoption of Russian children,” which “was not a campaign issue at that time.”
While Trump Jr. didn’t characterize it this way, this was an admission that he’d discussed “government policies related to Russia” — as the Times’s Amanda Taub and others have pointed out, the Russian policy barring children from adoption by American families was passed in response to a US law allowing Russian officials’ US assets to be frozen if they’d participated in human rights abuses.
While Trump Jr. didn’t explicitly say that the meeting had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, Russia’s attempts to get involved in the 2016 election, or the presidential campaign itself, that was certainly the implication.
It did not last.
Sunday: “An individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign”
On Sunday, the Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya after being told she might have information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton — an important fact about the cause of the meeting that had been conspicuously left out of Trump Jr.’s initial statement.
He then issued a longer statement, saying that while he had been told that he was meeting with “an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign” (though he hadn’t known who she was), he quickly surmised that “she had no meaningful information” when she started making “vague, ambiguous and made no sense” claims about ties between Hillary Clinton and Russia. In fact, he said, it became clear to him that “the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext” for Veselnitskaya to lobby him on the adoption issue.
With this statement — and a subsequent sarcastic tweet — Trump Jr. embraced and defended the interpretation that he’d agreed to a meeting with Veselnitskaya because he thought it might help his father and hurt Clinton, contrary to his initial claims that he had no meetings with Russians while “representing the campaign.” But by emphasizing that he didn’t know the woman’s name before the meeting, Trump Jr.’s Sunday statement strongly implied that he didn’t know that the information in question was coming from the Russian government.
Tuesday: “The woman...was not a government official,” and her information wasn’t helpful
By Monday night, the Times reported that the initial email sent to Trump Jr. had explained that the outreach was part of an official Russian government campaign to damage Clinton. That report was confirmed by emails released by Trump Jr. himself on Tuesday.
In the email, Rob Goldstone, the Trump acquaintance who set up the meeting, says explicitly that “ The Crown Prosecutor of Russia[…]offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
In a statement attached with the emails, however, Trump Jr. maintains that “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research” — publicly available information, as opposed to “high level and sensitive” “official documents.” While it’s possible that Trump Jr. simply didn’t read the initial email all the way through, and therefore just didn’t see the part that explained what he was being offered, he certainly replied as if he had: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Trump Jr.’s Tuesday statement also emphasizes that Veselnitskaya “was not a government official” (Veselnitskaya denies she was acting on behalf of the Kremlin, but Goldstone set up the meeting as “a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow”). And he reiterates the point made in his Sunday statement, that the initial purpose of the meeting was irrelevant, because Veselnitskaya did not actually provide any information of value to the campaign.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017