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The White House’s story has repeatedly changed when discussing Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last summer with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The latest explanation from the president himself emerged Monday morning, when he tweeted, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”
In an off-camera briefing later that day, press secretary Sean Spicer said that nothing came out of the meeting except a discussion on Russian adoption policy.
“You know I’m not going to get into the specifics of this, but I will say it’s quite often for people who are given information during the heat of campaign to ask what that is,” said Spicer. “That’s what simply he did, the president made it clear through his tweet, there was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe it was anything but discussion of adoption and the Magnitsky Act. I would refer you back to counsel on that one.”
Below is a timeline of the Trump team’s explanations:
No Russia meeting
Initially, those around the Trump campaign denied any meetings had happened. In a July 2016 interview with CNN, Trump Jr. said accusations from the Clinton campaign that Russia was involved with hacking the Democratic National Committee were “disgusting” and “so phony.”
“It just goes to show you their exact moral compass,” Trump Jr. says. “They’ll say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. He won’t say, ‘Well, I say this.’ We hear ‘experts,’ you know, his house cat once said this is what’s happening with the Russians. It’s disgusting. It’s so phony.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence said the same thing in interviews with CBS News’ John Dickerson.
“Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?” Dickerson asked Conway in 2016.
“Absolutely not,” Conway replied. “And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.”
Dickerson repeated the question in a January interview with Pence. “Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the elections?” he asked.
“Well of course not,” said Pence. “I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
July 8: Discussed adoption with a Russian lawyer
After the New York Times reported that Trump Jr. had met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign, his July 8 statement made no mention of the fact he was promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
“It was a short introductory meeting,” Trump Jr. said in a statement, reportedly approved by the president. “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. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
July 9: Also discussed the campaign with the Russian lawyer
The very next day, when the Times reported that Trump Jr. had been promised dirt on Clinton, he released a new statement.
“I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign,” said Trump Jr. “I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.”
July 11: Wanted Kremlin dirt on Clinton
Moments before the Times published a story on emails arranging the meeting, Trump Jr. released them on Twitter.
The emails showed that he took the meeting after being promised “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” which Trump’s eldest son verified when he released his emails. Trump Jr. responded 17 minutes later that he “[loved] it,” and the meeting occurred six days later.
The emails also contradicted his second statement. In it, he said that he told campaign chair Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law/White House adviser Jared Kushner nothing of the substance of the meeting, but per the emails Trump Jr. posted to Twitter, he had forwarded them the exchange. The subject line on the email was “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”
July 14: Expanding number of people in meeting
After reports initially indicated that there were four people in the meeting, new reports emerged that there were actually at least eight attendees, including Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who once served in the Soviet military. President Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, attempted to use the Secret Service as a buffer against accusations of uncouth dealings.
“Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in,” said Sekulow in a Sunday morning interview with ABC News. “The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”
Within hours, the Secret Service had rebuffed Sekulow’s attempts to place blame on them.
“Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the U.S. Secret Service in June, 2016,” Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman told Reuters. “Thus, we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”
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