The President’s legal team, as well as White House staff, are struggling to explain an apparent contradiction in statements made about the President’s involvement in response to questions about a meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with individuals connected to the Russian government.
In June 2016 a friend of the Trump family emailed the President’s son requesting a meeting to present incriminating evidence the Russian government had on Hillary Clinton, President Trump’s general election opponent in the 2016 race. The information was a “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the friend wrote, and might be helpful to his father’s campaign.
Trump Jr. responded favorably. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he wrote. The two then emailed several times over subsequent days working out a meeting time.
The meeting would take place on June 9, 2016. On that day a Russian lawyer by the name of Natalia Veselnitskaya and several other individuals with ties to the Russian government met with Trump Jr. in Trump Tower in New York. Also in attendance were the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump Campaign manager at the time Paul Manafort.
Veselnitskaya talked about a popular Russian adoption program with the U.S. that had been cancelled. She did not produce incriminating evidence about Hillary Clinton, much to the consternation of Trump campaign brass. But the Trump team’s willingness to take the meeting, critics say, points to a willingness to accept foreign assistance in the presidential campaign.
In July 2017 as President Trump and his senior advisers were returning from a G-20 meeting in Germany, they were approached by The New York Times with questions about the meeting and the reason it was set up. They maintained the meeting was about adoption but subsequent publication of the emails between Trump Jr. and the family friend would reveal the true reason for the meeting.
It was unclear at that time, and remains so, how much President Trump knew about the true nature of the meeting, either before or immediately after it occurred, but it was reported that the President was directly involved in the crafting of the response to The New York Times as well as other news outlets – something the President’s team vehemently denied at the time.
“The President was not — did not — draft the response. The response came from Donald Trump Jr…but I do want to be clear — that the President was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.,” the President’s attorney Jay Sekulow said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press in July 2017.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the denials in a White House daily press briefing on August 1, 2017. “He certainly didn’t dictate, but he — like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do,” she said.
Those assertions have been contradicted by a letter written by Sekulow, as well as President Trump’s other attorney at the time, John Dowd, to special counsel Robert Mueller in January of this year. In that letter, Sekulow and Dowd admit that the President did in fact dictate the White House’s response to The New York Times about the meeting.
“You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr. His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion,” the attorneys wrote.
The letter was sent to Mueller in response to requests from Mueller’s team to interview the President face-to-face on several topics in the Russian investigation. Most of them concern the President’s actions toward his former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.
The letter was written Sekulow and Dowd, and was hand delivered to Mueller’s team on January 29, 2018. A copy of that letter was obtained and recently published by The New York Times.
In responding to the contradiction, former NYC Mayor and newly-installed member of the President’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani, explained it as simple error.
“You think maybe, somebody could have made a mistake? You think Jay Sekulow lied? Maybe he just got it wrong? I’ve gotten a few things wrong at the beginning of the investigation…It was a mistake and then if you want to, you can say it’s a lie…It was a mistake. I swear to God, it was a mistake. The guy made a mistake. It was corrected,” Giuliani said.
Sanders also defended her credibility while declining to comment on the specific details of the issue. “You’re referencing a letter that came directly from outside counsel and I would refer you to them,” Sanders said in a response to a question about the Sekulow/Dowd letter to Mueller. “I’m not going to get into a back and forth.”
“I think you all know I’m an honest person who works extremely hard to provide you with accurate information at all times. I’m going to continue to do that but I’m not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel,” she would add.
Sekulow, in a statement to CNN, would say only that the letter he and Dowd penned is accurate. “The statement in the January letter reflects our understanding of the events that occurred,” he said.
The contradiction may raise additional questions from Mueller’s team as they were already focusing on the President’s actions during the response to questions about the Trump Tower meeting, and whether it constituted obstruction of justice.
The President’s team is negotiating the terms of any possible face-to-face interview between him and Robert Mueller.
Photo by Max Goldberg via Wikimedia Commons