In a confidential letter to special counsel Robert Mueller in January, President Donald Trump’s legal team acknowledged for the first time that Trump “dictated” the first misleading statement put out about his son’s controversial 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.
“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.,” the letter said, according to The New York Times, which published a copy of it. “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 acknowledgment was tucked away in the letter, which largely focused on defending Trump from a potential subpoena for testimony and asserted broad executive powers to avoid a high-stakes interview with Mueller. The letter, which CNN previously reported on, was signed by Trump’s attorneys at the time, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Dowd left the legal team in March, while Sekulow continues representing the President.
The misleading statement, issued in July 2017 to The New York Times, obfuscated the true nature of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, which was attended by Donald Trump Jr., then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is now a senior White House adviser, and a group of Kremlin-tied Russians.
One of those Russians, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, brought up the Magnitsky Act at the meeting, a 2012 American law punishing Russian human rights violators that she has lobbied extensively to overturn. She reached out to Trump’s team after he was elected to try to lobby on the Russian sanctions, CNN has reported.
While the premise of the Trump Tower meeting was for the Russians to deliver damaging information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the statement initially put out in Trump Jr.’s name said the participants “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and omitted mention of Clinton.
After the initial statement came out, news outlets reported Trump was involved in preparing the statement. Some reports said he helped draft it, others said he personally “dictated” the words. Trump Jr., meanwhile, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in private testimony in September, released last month, that he didn’t speak to his father about the statement, but that the President “may have commented through Hope Hicks,” the then-White House aide, and that some of those comments might have made it into the statement.
In their public responses to the news reports, however, Sekulow and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders denied Trump’s role.
The letter revealed on Saturday puts to bed the question of Trump’s involvement, but it doesn’t erase the previous denials from the record. Here are those examples.
Trump lawyer Sekulow, CNN interview, 7/12/17: “That was written, no that was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I’m sure with consultation with his lawyer. That wasn’t written by the president.”
Sekulow, ABC interview, 7/12/17: “The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G20. The statement that was released Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., I’m sure in consultation with his lawyers. The President wasn’t involved in that.”
Sekulow, NBC interview, 7/16/17: “The President was not — did not — draft the response. The response came from Donald Trump Jr. and — I’m sure — in consultation with his lawyer. … Let me say this — 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.
Sekulow, statement to the Washington Post, 7/31/17: “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, daily press briefing, 8/1/17: “He certainly didn’t dictate, but he – like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.”