In his appearance on Meet The Press on Sunday, Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, refused to deny that Trump had a hand in the misleading statement issued by his son about his meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer last June.
Trump Jr.’s initial statement said: “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 the time and there was no follow up.”
Virtually everything in this statement is dishonest.
It wasn’t an “introductory meeting.” The purpose of the meeting was not to make an introduction. Indeed, Trump Jr. has insisted that he didn’t even know the name of the person he was going to meet.
The purpose of the meeting, as we now know from emails released by Trump Jr. himself, was to obtain “very high level and sensitive information” about Hillary Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” There was no ambiguity about the source of this information, the Russian government. Trump Jr. had been told that Russia’s chief prosecutor was offering the Trump campaign “official documents and information” that would be “very useful” to his father’s presidential campaign.
Trump Jr. did not ask Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort “to stop by.” He set up the meeting with them beforehand, and forwarded to them the emails disclosing the exact purpose of the meeting.
The meeting was not primarily about “the adoption of Russian children.” It was primarily about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Indeed, when the Russian lawyer tried to change the subject to the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions program that prompted Russia to halt American adoption of Russian children, Trump Jr. found that subject so off-point that he terminated the meeting.
And the meeting was, in fact, entirely about a “campaign issue.” The whole point of taking the meeting was to get information from Russia that could be “very useful to your father,” who at the time was the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.
Given the level of dishonesty in Trump Jr.’s statement, it is more than a little interesting to know who had a hand in foisting this lie on the American people. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that on the way back from Trump’s Europe trip last Saturday, Trump’s advisors huddled in a cabin on Air Force One “helping craft a statement” for Trump Jr.
And, according to the Times story, Trump personally “signed off” on the misleading statement that his son issued shortly thereafter.
If the Times story is accurate, then Trump’s fingerprints are all over a conspiracy to cover up the truth about his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.
So it wasn’t surprising that Chuck Todd asked Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, whether the President was, as reported, involved in his son’s misleading initial statement about the meeting.
Sekulow first attempted to dodge the question with a narrow, unresponsive bit of lawyer-speak. “The President did not draft the response,” Sekulow insisted. And the statement “came from” Trump Jr. and his lawyers, not President Trump.
Of course, Todd hadn’t asked Sekulow whether Trump actually “drafted” the response, or whether the statement “came from” him. He had asked whether the President was “involved” in the drafting, as the Times had reported.
Todd, to his credit, caught Sekulow’s dodge and followed up. He observed that Sekulow had not responded to his question, and pressed as to whether the President had received a “heads up” about the statement, or had signed off on it before it was issued.
If the Times report had been inaccurate, and the President had been uninvolved in the process of drafting and issuing his son’s statement, this was Sekulow’s chance to say so.
But he didn’t. Instead, he dodged and weaved. Again. “I can’t say whether the President was told a statement was going to be coming from his son on that. I didn’t have that conversation.”
Whatever this is supposed to mean, it certainly doesn’t mean “no” the President had no involvement in reviewing or approving the statement, as reported by the Times. And we can only chuckle at the idea that Sekulow hadn’t discussed his client’s involvement in the statement prior to going on Meet The Press to defend it.
It makes far more sense to interpret Sekulow’s dodge as meaning something like, “Yes, the President was involved and approved the statement, just like the Times reported, but I’m going to pretend I know nothing about it because I can’t admit it on national television.”
Sorry, Jay. I think you just did admit it. On national television.