Trump ap­pears to change story on meet­ing with Rus­sian lawyer

The Western Star - - WORLD - BY JONATHAN LEMIRE

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­pears to have changed his story about a 2016 meet­ing at Trump Tower that is piv­otal to the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, tweet­ing that his son met with a Krem­lin-con­nected lawyer to col­lect in­for­ma­tion about his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.

“Fake News re­port­ing, a com­plete fabri­ca­tion, that I am con­cerned about the meet­ing my won­der­ful son, Don­ald, had in Trump Tower,” Trump wrote in a Sun­day tweet. “This was a meet­ing to get in­for­ma­tion on an op­po­nent, to­tally le­gal and done all the time in pol­i­tics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

That is a far dif­fer­ent ex­pla­na­tion than Trump gave 13 months ago, when a state­ment dic­tated by the pres­i­dent but re­leased un­der the name of Don­ald Trump Jr., read: “We pri­mar­ily dis­cussed a pro­gram about the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren that was ac­tive and pop­u­lar with Amer­i­can fam­i­lies years ago.”

The mis­di­rec­tion came amid a se­ries of sear­ing tweets sent from his New Jersey golf club, in which he tore into two of his favourite tar­gets, the news me­dia and Robert Mueller’s on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble links be­tween the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign and Rus­sia. Trump un­leashed par­tic­u­lar fury at re­ports that he was anx­ious about the Trump Tower meet­ing at­tended by Don­ald Trump Jr. and other se­nior cam­paign of­fi­cials.

Trump’s crit­ics im­me­di­ately pounced on the new story, the lat­est of sev­eral ver­sions of events about a meet­ing for which emails were dis­cov­ered be­tween the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son and an in­ter­me­di­ary from the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fer­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Trump’s op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton. Be­tray­ing no sur­prise or mis­giv­ings about the of­fer from a hos­tile for­eign power, Trump Jr. replied: “If it’s what you say I love it es­pe­cially later in the sum­mer.”

Sun­day’s tweet was Trump’s clear­est state­ment yet on the pur­pose of the meet­ing, which has be­come a fo­cal point of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion even as the pres­i­dent and his lawyers try to down­play its sig­nif­i­cance and pum­mel the Mueller probe with at­tacks. On Sun­day, Trump again sug­gested with­out ev­i­dence that Mueller was bi­ased against him, declar­ing, “This is the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our coun­try.”

And as Trump and his al­lies have tried to dis­credit the probe, a new talk­ing point has emerged: that even if that meet­ing was held to col­lect dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion, none was pro­vided and “col­lu­sion” - Trump’s go-to de­scrip­tion of what Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing - never oc­curred.

“The ques­tion is what law, statute or rule or reg­u­la­tion has been vi­o­lated, and no­body has pointed to one,” said Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s at­tor­neys, on ABC’s “This Week.”

But le­gal ex­perts have pointed out sev­eral pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges, in­clud­ing con­spir­acy against the United States and aid­ing and abet­ting a con­spir­acy. Fed­eral cam­paign fi­nance law makes it il­le­gal for a cam­paign to ac­cept a “thing of value,” such as a fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion, from for­eign nationals. Op­po­si­tion re­search could be counted by in­ves­ti­ga­tors as a “thing of value,” ex­perts have said.

Op­po­si­tion re­search - col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion on an op­po­nent - is not il­le­gal and is a com­mon prac­tice in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

But “wil­fully so­lic­it­ing a for­eign con­tri­bu­tion is a crime,” Rick Hasen, a cam­paign fi­nance ex­pert and law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine, said in an email Mon­day. “You have to know you are do­ing some­thing il­le­gal and the courts would have to con­sider the op­po­si­tion re­search from Rus­sian agents a ”thing of value“for cam­paign fi­nance pur­poses.”

AP PHOTO

In this July 27 photo, po­lice in­ves­ti­gate the re­port of a “sus­pi­cious item” in­side Trump Tower on Fifth Av­enue, in New York.

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