President Donald Trump deliberately misled the news media about the nature of his son's private meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign, according to a new report.
When it came out in July that Donald Trump Jr. had met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in the run-up to the election, the president's advisers reportedly agreed that Trump Jr. should publish a candid statement to preempt the media coverage.
The statement would fully disclose all aspects of the meeting so that the White House couldn't be accused of a cover-up later on.
But The Washington Post reports that the president was not on board with the idea, and instead decided to personally dictate a false statement in which Trump Jr. explained that he had met with Veselnitskaya in June of 2016 to discuss "a program about the adoption of Russian children" and that the meeting was "not a campaign issue at the time."
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Days later, as details of the meeting began to emerge in the media, Trump Jr. confessed that he met with Veselnitskaya because he was told via email that she had dirt on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- the president's Democratic opposition at the time. The email stated that the information came from the Russian government.
There is speculation now as to whether the president put himself in legal jeopardy by encouraging his son to issue the misleading statement.
"This was unnecessary," one adviser who wished to remain anonymous told The Post. "Now someone can claim he's the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth."
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"He refuses to sit still," the adviser said of Trump Sr. "He doesn't think he's in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself."
In response to The Post's story, an attorney for Trump Sr., Jay Sekulow, issued the following statement: "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent."
Previously, Sekulow told CNN that he knew very little about the circumstances surrounding Trump Jr.'s original statement, only that the president had nothing to do with it.
"I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president," he said. "I'm assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr., between Don Jr. and his lawyer."
Trump Jr.'s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that he and his client are "absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement" about the meeting with Veselnitskaya. Regarding Trump Sr.'s alleged role in drafting the initial statement, Futerfas said he has "no evidence to support that theory," adding that the drafting of such a statement is "a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers."
Deputy special prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, who is working alongside special counsel Robert Mueller, said he was taken aback by the "stupidity" of the situation.
"The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president," he told The Post. "They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem. … What they don't seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them."