Let’s not over-complicate this: President Donald Trump and his legal team lied about the statement from Donald Trump Jr. in the wake of The New York Times reporting about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s eldest son and several Russians.
Think that’s an overstatement? Let’s go through this.
In July 2017, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, who remains on the President’s legal team, was conclusive about his boss’s role in the crafting of that statement from Don Jr. – which insisted the meeting had primarily been about adoption policies. (We learned later that was not the reason the meeting was called or its main goal.)
“Let’s focus on what the President was aware of: nothing,” insisted Sekulow on CNN’s “New Day.” “I wasn’t involved in the statement drafting at all nor was the President. I’m assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyers. I’m sure his lawyer was involved, that’s how you do it. To put this on the President, I think, is absolutely incorrect.”
By the following month, the White House hedging began. “The President weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about Trump’s involvement in the statement.
Neither of those statements were accurate, it turns out. How do we know? Because the Trump legal team, in a 20-page January memo to special counsel Robert Mueller, first obtained by The New York Times, said they weren’t accurate.
“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 memo read.
So. In less than a year, we have gone from a) the President was aware of “nothing” about the statement to b) he “weighed in” like any father would to c) he dictated the entire statement. That’s a total and complete reversal. And, because it all comes either from Trump’s legal team or Sanders, it’s hard to cast the contradiction as some sort of partisan endeavor.
How to explain the total shift in Trump’s story? “Our recollection keeps changing,” acknowledged former New York City mayor – and Trump legal team member – Rudy Giuliani on Sunday.
Here’s the problem with that “explanation:” It requires us to believe that:
1) The President of the United States simply forgot that he dictated a statement for his son on a bombshell New York Times story about a meeting between his senior campaign officials and Russian officials
2) Trump didn’t tell Sekulow (or Sanders) the truth of what he knew about his role in the statement or didn’t “recollect” it properly
Trump has repeatedly said he has “one of the great memories of all time.” Given that, one would expect him to remember that he dictated the statement in his son’s name that was given to The New York Times, no?
What’s more likely is this: Trump didn’t tell Sekulow or Sanders the truth about his role in the Trump Jr. statement. And he may have even hid it from his son – as evidenced by Don Jr.’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This exchange from the committee’s transcript suggests that Don Jr. either a) didn’t know his dad dictated his statement or b) lied about it under oath.
Q: The Washington Post has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8th statement. Is that correct?
Trump Jr.: I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.
Q. Do you know who did draft that statement?
Trump Jr.: Well, there were numerous statements drafted with counsel and other people were involved and, you know, opined.
Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input?
Trump Jr.: He may have commented through Hope Hicks.
Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?
Trump Jr.: I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.
What we know is this: The Trump legal (and White House) team didn’t tell the truth about the President’s role in dictating the statement to The New York Times that was ostensibly from his son. “The statement in the January letter reflects our understanding of the events that occurred,” Sekulow said in a statement to CNN Monday afternoon. Translated: The President didn’t tell me the whole truth when I first asked.
The only real question now is why.