Trump ad­mits coach­ing son’s an­swers on Rus­sia in­quiry

An­a­lysts say move likely not il­le­gal, but could give Mueller an open­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY AN­DREA NOBLE Dave Boyer con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The White House con­firmed Tues­day that Pres­i­dent Trump “weighed in” to help craft his son’s re­sponse to re­ports of a meet­ing last year with a Rus­sian lawyer — a move that could fuel an ex­pan­sion of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Trump cam­paign fig­ures’ deal­ings with Moscow.

Le­gal an­a­lysts said draft­ing a mis­lead­ing memo is not nec­es­sar­ily a crime, but it could give the on­go­ing special coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by Robert Mueller room to in­ter­view ad­di­tional White House of­fi­cials.

“As­sum­ing all this is true, the first thing that stands out is the num­ber of peo­ple who have been ex­posed to the scope of the special coun­sel,” said Bradley Moss, an at­tor­ney who han­dles na­tional se­cu­rity cases. “At a min­i­mum, it’s a po­lit­i­cal issue for the pres­i­dent. It looks hor­ri­ble.”

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Mon­day that Mr. Trump in­ter­vened as his ad­vis­ers dis­cussed how to re­spond to a New York Times in­quiry about Don­ald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meet­ing with Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya. The Post said the pres­i­dent dic­tated a state­ment to be used by his son in­di­cat­ing the meet­ing was about Rus­sian adop­tions and not the cam­paign or other re­lated is­sues.

The pres­i­dent’s son later re­leased email cor­re­spon­dence that showed he was promised a Rus­sian lawyer would pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer last month had de­nied the pres­i­dent’s in­volve­ment in craft­ing the re­sponse.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders dis­puted de­tails of the Post re­port Tues­day but con­firmed the pres­i­dent did offer his thoughts.

“He cer­tainly didn’t dic­tate. He weighed in, of­fered sug­ges­tions like any fa­ther would do,” Mrs. San­ders said.

She also bris­tled at the no­tion Mr. Trump’s ex­pla­na­tion gave the wrong im­pres­sion about the meet­ing.

“Ev­ery­body wants to try to make this some story about ‘mis­lead­ing.’ The only thing I’ve seen that’s mis­lead­ing is a year’s worth of sto­ries that have been fu­el­ing a false nar­ra­tive about this Rus­sia col­lu­sion, and based on a phony scan­dal based on anony­mous sources,” she said.

Jonathan Tur­ley, a Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor, said draft­ing a mis­lead­ing state­ment isn’t il­le­gal. “Other­wise half of Wash­ing­ton would be in jail,” he quipped to C-SPAN on Tues­day.

But the pres­i­dent’s in­volve­ment could put him in le­gal jeop­ardy when it comes to the special coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said.

“There were al­le­ga­tions the pres­i­dent had al­ready put pres­sure on Cab­i­net of­fi­cials to ter­mi­nate the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and in that con­text, he then took it upon him­self to per­son­ally di­rect how to re­spond to per­haps the most dam­ag­ing piece of in­for­ma­tion that has come out re­gard­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That is truly breath­tak­ing,” Mr. Tur­ley said. “There can be a le­git­i­mate al­le­ga­tion that there was an at­tempt to mis­lead, and the special coun­sel can say ‘I want to know why.’”

They could also sub­ject Hope Hicks, the White House direc­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, to fur­ther scru­tiny by the special coun­sel. The Post re­port states Ms. Hicks acted as a go-between for the pres­i­dent and his son as the ini­tial state­ment was crafted.

“She at least is go­ing to be asked ques­tions about the scope of her in­volve­ment,” Mr. Moss said of the like­li­hood in­ves­ti­ga­tors will seek to learn more about the in­ter­ac­tions.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a mem­ber of both the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary and in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, which are each con­duct­ing probes of the 2016 elec­tion, said Congress will also take a look.

“This will be a fac­tor when it comes be­fore the full com­mit­tee,” the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat told CNN. “If it’s true, I think it is of se­ri­ous con­cern.”

Don­ald Trump Jr.’s ini­tial state­ment on the meet­ing said, “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.”

Days later, he re­leased an email chain from June 2016 that con­tained cor­re­spon­dence between him­self and Rob Gold­stone, a for­mer Bri­tish jour­nal­ist and Trump as­so­ci­ate who ar­ranged the June 9 meet­ing with Ms. Ve­sel­nit­skaya.

One email from Mr. Gold­stone states that the “Crown pros­e­cu­tor of Rus­sia” had met with a pre­vi­ous business part­ner of the el­der Mr. Trump and “of­fered to pro­vide the Trump cam­paign with some of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion that would in­crim­i­nate Hil­lary and her deal­ings with Rus­sia and would be very use­ful to your fa­ther.”

“This is ob­vi­ously very high level and sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion but is part of Rus­sia and its gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Trump,” Mr. Gold­stone wrote.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders claimed Pres­i­dent Trump “weighed in” but not “dic­tate” Don­ald Trump Jr.’s state­ment deny­ing Rus­sia col­lu­sion. “Ev­ery­body wants to … make this some story about ‘mis­lead­ing,’” she said of the cov­er­age.

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