Fact Check: White House Changes Story on Trump Tower Meeting
The Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, was arranged by music publicist Rob Goldstone
In a recently disclosed letter to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, President Donald Trump’s attorneys said the president “dictated” his son’s statement to the New York Times about a June 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer.
The admission, in a Jan. 29 letter written by attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, contradicted earlier claims by Sekulow that the president was not involved in drafting his son’s statement, which gave misleading information about the meeting, and the White House’s later admission that the president gave his input, but did not dictate the statement.
The Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, was arranged by music publicist Rob Goldstone, who sent an email to Donald Trump Jr. saying, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” In agreeing to the meeting, the younger Trump told Goldstone, “[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
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At the meeting, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign convention manager, met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. There is no publicly available evidence that Veselnitskaya provided any incriminating information about Clinton, as promised by Goldstone, although the Russia investigation, of course, is still active.
Below is a timeline of the shifting responses that the president’s lawyers and press secretary gave when describing the president’s role in drafting Donald Trump Jr.’s statement to the New York Times:
July 8, 2017 — The New York Times reports on the Trump campaign meeting with Veselnitskaya, who was described by the paper as “a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin.” Donald Trump Jr., in a statement to the Times, downplays the meeting, saying that the participants “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” The statement makes no mention that he was promised damaging information about Clinton.
July 9, 2017 — In a second story, the Times reports that Donald Trump Jr. was “promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.” The president’s son issued a second statement that, in part, read: “[T]he woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton,” Trump Jr.’s statement read. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered.”
July 11, 2017 – The New York Times reports that “the president signed off” on Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement to the Times “that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements.” The president’s son on the same day tweets images of the email chain about that June 9, 2016, meeting, disclosing his interest in obtaining incriminating information on Clinton from the “Russian government lawyer.” (See our story, “Donald Trump Jr.’s Evolving Statements.”)
July 12, 2017 – On CNN’s “New Day,” Sekulow denies that the president had any involvement in drafting Donald Trump Jr.’s incomplete and misleading first statement to the New York Times. “I wasn’t involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president,” Sekulow says.
Sekulow says something similar on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” he says. “He was coming back from the G-20. The statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., I’m sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”
July 16, 2017 – On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sekulow repeats that the president was not involved in drafting Donald Trump Jr.’s initial response to the Times. “I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement,” Sekulow says. “It came from Donald Trump Jr. So that’s what I can tell you because that’s what we know.”
July 31, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that the president “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.”
Aug. 1, 2017 – White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denies that the president “personally dictated” the statement to the Times, but confirms for the first time that the president was involved in drafting the statement. “The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had,” she says. “He certainly didn’t dictate, but like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.”
Jan. 29, 2018 – In a letter to special counsel Mueller, Dowd and Sekulow write that the president did dictate the letter to the New York Times – contradicting the White House press secretary. They write, “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.”
June 3, 2018 — Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has joined the Trump legal team, says that Sekulow was “uninformed” when he said that the president wasn’t involved in drafting his son’s initial statement to the Times. “I think he was uninformed at the time just like I was when I came into the case,” Giuliani said.
June 4, 2018 — Sanders, the president’s press secretary, declines to answer questions about the contradiction between the January letter and her statement in August that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” his son’s letter. “I’m not going to respond to a letter from the president’s outside counsel,” Sanders says. “We’ve purposely walled off, and I would refer you to them for comment.”