Trump appears to change story on meeting with Russian lawyer
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.”
In this July 27 photo, police investigate the report of a “suspicious item” inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, in New York.