Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Update on the Donald Jr. Meeting with Russians: Was there a cover-up by the President reported by his staff?

Here’s a trio from the Washington Post reporting on the three themes suggested by the title of this post.

The main story was reported by reported by Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Tom Hamburger in Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

The apparent attempt at a cover-up is explored by Paul Waldman in President Trump is now directly implicated in trying to cover up the Russia scandal

This latest story is clearly one of the most significant developments in this scandal to date, for two reasons. First, it describes an organized effort to mislead the public — not to spin, or minimize the story, or distract from it, or throw out wild accusations about someone else, but to intentionally fool everyone into believing something false. Second, it implicates the president himself. Indeed, the most extraordinary part of the picture this story paints is that while other people involved were recommending some measure of transparency on the assumption that the truth would come out eventually, they were overruled by the president, who personally dictated the misleading statement.

And it gets worse. Once the story broke, Trump’s own lawyer went to the media and denied that the president was involved in the drafting of the misleading statement. In two televised interviews, Jay Sekulow said “the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement,” “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” and “The president wasn’t involved in that.” While it’s theoretically possible that Sekulow would make emphatic statements of fact like those about what his client did or didn’t do without actually asking Trump, that seems almost impossible to believe. Sekulow is a prominent attorney who knows exactly what kind of trouble that could bring, both to himself and his client. So the only reasonable conclusion is that he was repeating what Trump told him.

So, to put this together: The president of the United States personally wrote a statement about this meeting with the Russians, a statement that everyone involved knew to be false. Going further, he then either lied to his own lawyer about his involvement so that the lawyer would repeat that lie publicly (highly likely) or was candid with his lawyer and persuaded him to lie to the media on his behalf (much less likely).

Let’s return to that scene on Air Force One. A damaging story is breaking, and Trump’s advisers are facing the dilemma many administrations have faced before: How do we deal with it? How much information should we voluntarily reveal? Is there a way to make the story go away that won’t set us up for even more trouble down the road? While they were debating those questions, the one person to whom no one could say no told them how it was going to be: They were going to lie. And as is so often the case with Trump, the lie was quickly revealed for what it was.

I promise you, the substantial number of people involved in that discussion were profoundly uncomfortable with Trump’s instructions. For a political flack, nothing inspires more dread than putting out a story that you know is bogus and that you don’t think will hold up.

Their fears were inevitably realized, and now the Russia scandal has reached all the way to the president himself. Something tells me there’s more to come.

But why would those involved in the discussion blow the whistle? Aaron Blake has one answer in Trump aides’ stunning cry for help: Admitting the president misled the American people

The White House’s first six months, of course, have been littered with internal leaks. Many of them are owed to the warring factions within the West Wing and dissension in the broader administration. But every so often you see this kind of leak: the send-a-message-to-the-boss leak – the spreading of unhelpful information about the president because advisers see no other way to make it stop.

And even in that line of reporting, this is a pretty remarkable cry for help. In this story, they’re admitting that he is personally responsible for deliberately misleading the American people about a major topic of the Russia investigation. They’re saying that he did something that could very well be construed as a cover-up and could damage his legal defense. The reason? Because they apparently can’t prevail upon him in person and they think he simply doesn’t get what kind of jeopardy he is putting himself in.

Trump will surely view this as an effort by the deep state and/or the media to undermine him. He’d be better off understanding it for what it is: a desperate effort to help him help himself. After all, in this case, the advisers were right. The truth all came out in rather short order, and Trump only made it worse.

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