Trump dic­tated son’s meet­ing ac­count, sources say

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ASH­LEY PARKER, CAROL D. LEON­NIG, PHILIP RUCKER AND TOM HAM­BURGER

On the side­lines of the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ger­many last month, Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 that the ad­vis­ers knew car­ried po­lit­i­cal peril, ac­cord­ing to sources close to the pres­i­dent.

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 other de­tails emerged.

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

Fly­ing home from Ger­many on July 8, Pres­i­dent Trump per­son­ally dic­tated a state­ment in which Trump Jr. said he and the Rus­sian lawyer had dis­cussed child adop­tions when they met in June 2016, said mul­ti­ple peo­ple with knowl­edge of the de­lib­er­a­tions. The state­ment, is­sued to The New York Times as it pre­pared a story about the June 2016 meet­ing, em­pha­sized that the sub­ject of the meet­ing was “not a cam­paign is­sue at the time.”

Over the next three days, mul­ti­ple ac­counts of the meet­ing were pro­vided to the me­dia as pub­lic pres­sure mounted, with Trump Jr. ul­ti­mately ac­knowl­edg­ing that he had ac­cepted the meet­ing af­ter receiving an email promis­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton as part of a Rus­sian gov­ern­ment ef­fort to help his father’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

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, the sources say, some ad­vis­ers fear could place him and some mem­bers of his in­ner cir­cle in le­gal jeop­ardy.

As special coun­sel Robert Mueller in­ves­ti­gates po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice as part of his broader probe of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, the ad­vis­ers worry that the pres­i­dent’s di­rect in­volve­ment leaves him vul­ner­a­ble to al­le­ga­tions of a cover-up.

“This was … un­nec­es­sary,” said one of the pres­i­dent’s ad­vis­ers, who like most other peo­ple in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss sen­si­tive in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions. “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.”

Pres­i­dent Trump has al­ready come un­der crit­i­cism for steps he has taken to chal­lenge the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey on May 9 af­ter a pri­vate meet­ing in which Comey said the pres­i­dent asked him if he could end the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of ousted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn.

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats told as­so­ciates that Trump asked him in March if he could in­ter­vene with Comey to get the FBI to back off its fo­cus on Flynn. In ad­di­tion, Trump has crit­i­cized At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions for re­cus­ing him­self from over­see­ing the FBI’s Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Al­though mis­lead­ing the pub­lic or the me­dia is not a crime, ad­vis­ers to Trump and his fam­ily told The Wash­ing­ton Post that they fear that any in­di­ca­tion that the pres­i­dent was seek­ing to hide in­for­ma­tion about contacts be­tween his cam­paign and

Rus­sians would draw ad­di­tional scru­tiny from Mueller.

Pres­i­dent Trump, they say, is in­creas­ingly act­ing as his own lawyer, strategist and pub­li­cist, of­ten dis­re­gard­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions of the pro­fes­sion­als he has hired to ad­vise him.

“He re­fuses to sit still,” one pres­i­den­tial ad­viser said. “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.”

Be­cause Pres­i­dent Trump be­lieves he is in­no­cent, some ad­vis­ers ex­plained, he does not think he is at any le­gal risk re­gard­ing a pos­si­ble cover-up.

The White House directed all ques­tions for this ar­ti­cle to the pres­i­dent’s le­gal team.

One of Trump’s at­tor­neys, Jay Seku­low, de­clined to dis­cuss the specifics of the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions and his role in craft­ing his son’s state­ment about the Rus­sian con­tact. Seku­low is­sued a one-sen­tence state­ment in re­sponse to a list of de­tailed ques­tions from the Post.

“Apart from be­ing of no con­se­quence, the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions are mis­in­formed, in­ac­cu­rate, and not per­ti­nent,” Seku­low’s state­ment read.

Trump Jr. did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. His lawyer, Alan Futer­fas, told the Post that he and his client “were fully pre­pared and ab­so­lutely pre­pared to make a ful­some state­ment” about the meet­ing, what led up to it and what was dis­cussed.

Asked about Pres­i­dent Trump in­ter­ven­ing, Futer­fas said, “I have no ev­i­dence to sup­port that the­ory.” He de­scribed the process of draft­ing a state­ment as “a com­mu­nal sit­u­a­tion that in­volved com­mu­ni­ca­tions peo­ple and var­i­ous lawyers.”

THE PLANE RIDE HOME

The dis­cus­sion about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing be­gan weeks be­fore any news or­ga­ni­za­tions be­gan to ask ques­tions about it, sources said.

Pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Jared Kush­ner’s le­gal team first learned about the meet­ing

when do­ing re­search to re­spond to con­gres­sional re­quests for in­for­ma­tion. Con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors wanted to know about any contacts the pres­i­dent’s sonin-law and se­nior ad­viser had with Rus­sian of­fi­cials or busi­ness peo­ple.

A string of emails showed that Kush­ner at­tended a meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the cam­paign — one he had failed to dis­close. Trump Jr. had ar­ranged it, and then-cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort had also at­tended it.

To com­pound the is­sue, the emails, which had not yet sur­faced pub­licly, showed Trump Jr. re­spond­ing to the prospect of neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion on Clin­ton from Rus­sia with: “I love it.”

Lawyers and ad­vis­ers for the pres­i­dent, his son and son-in-law gamed out var­i­ous strate­gies for dis­clos­ing the in­for­ma­tion to try to min­i­mize the fall­out of the new links be­tween the Trump fam­ily and Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­lib­er­a­tions.

Hope Hicks, the White House di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and Josh Raf­fel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump, hud­dled with Kush­ner’s lawyers, and they ad­vo­cated for a more trans­par­ent ap­proach, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the

con­ver­sa­tions.

In one sce­nario, these peo­ple said, Kush­ner’s team talked about shar­ing ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the con­tents of the emails, with a main­stream news or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Hicks and Raf­fel de­clined to com­ment. Kush­ner lawyer Abbe Low­ell also de­clined to com­ment.

Then The New York Times be­gan ask­ing about the Trump Tower meet­ing, al­though ad­vis­ers be­lieved that the news­pa­per knew few of the de­tails. While the pres­i­dent, Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump were at­tend­ing the G-20 sum­mit, the Times asked for White House com­ment on the im­pe­tus and rea­son for the meet­ing.

Dur­ing breaks away from the sum­mit, Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump gath­ered with Hicks and Raf­fel to dis­cuss Kush­ner’s re­sponse to the in­quiry, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions. Kush­ner’s le­gal team joined in at times by phone.

Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions, Kush­ner’s team con­cluded that the best strat­egy would be to err on the side of trans­parency be­cause they be­lieved the com­plete story would even­tu­ally emerge.

The dis­cus­sions among Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­vis­ers con­sumed much of the day and con­tin­ued as they pre­pared

to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

But be­fore ev­ery­one boarded the plane, Pres­i­dent Trump had over­ruled the con­sen­sus, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the events.

It re­mains un­clear ex­actly how much the pres­i­dent knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meet­ing.

The pres­i­dent directed that Trump Jr.’s state­ment to the Times de­scribe the meet­ing as unim­por­tant. He wanted the state­ment to say that the meet­ing had been ini­ti­ated by the Rus­sian lawyer and pri­mar­ily was about her pet is­sue — the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren.

Air Force One took off from Ger­many shortly af­ter 6 p.m., about noon in Wash­ing­ton. In a for­ward cabin, Pres­i­dent Trump was busy work­ing on his son’s state­ment, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of events. The pres­i­dent dic­tated the state­ment to Hicks, who served as a go-be­tween with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, shar­ing ed­its be­tween the two men, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions.

In the early af­ter­noon, East­ern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the state­ment to the Times. It was four sen­tences long, de­scrib­ing the en­counter as a “short, in­tro­duc­tory meet­ing.”

Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump fam­ily ad­vis­ers and lawyers about the state­ment that Trump Jr. had sent to the Times.

Some lawyers for the pres­i­dent and for Kush­ner were sur­prised and frus­trated, ad­vis­ers later learned. Ac­cord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the dis­pute, some lawyers tried to reach Futer­fas and their clients, and be­gan ask­ing why the pres­i­dent had been in­volved. In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Alice Crites of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.