In Shift, Trump Says Tower Meeting Was Held to Get Clinton Dirt
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump tweeted that he didn’t know about his son’s meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, adding that a gathering that included a Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin was held to “get information on an opponent” -- Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
That, Trump said, is a routine part of politics, “totally legal and done all the time.” The new rationale, though, contradicted a statement Trump helped craft in 2017, which said the meeting had been focused on U.S. policies for adopting Russian children.
Trump has said in recent weeks that he didn’t know about the meeting at the time.
On July 27, the president said on Twitter that “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr,” in response to reports that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was ready to tell authorities that Trump had known. “Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam,” Trump said of Cohen.
CNN reported that Cohen was prepared to tell federal investigators that the president knew ahead of time about the meeting, at which the Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was expected to deliver damaging information about Clinton.
Such testimony by Cohen, a longtime fixer for Trump, would contradict the testimony and public denials of the president, his son, and other campaign officials who’ve repeatedly said the president wasn’t informed about the meeting until more than a year later.
The meeting was attended by the president’s son as well as Paul Manafort, then chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and several Russians, including Veselnitskaya, and their representatives.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday less than an hour after the president tweeted, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said nobody had identified any law potentially violated by Trump’s son by participating in the meeting.
“The question is, how would it be illegal?” he said. ABC correspondent George Stephanopoulos noted that conspiracy to defraud the U.S. has been suggested as a possible charge.
Sekulow, who’s not representing Trump Jr., also said he had no knowledge of the president’s son being told he’s a target of the special counsel’s investigation, or whether he’s been interviewed by the special counsel.
In an ABC interview more than a year ago, Sekulow denied that the president had played any role in drafting a statement about the nature of the meeting. Weeks later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had, in fact, weighed in “as any father would” to the document drafted on Air Force One as the president and his entourage flew back from a meeting in Germany.
“He certainly didn’t dictate. But, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered a suggestion,” Sanders said at a press conference in August 2017.
Representative Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter that Trump’s comments weren’t “normal or credible.”
“The Russians offered damaging info on your opponent. Your campaign accepted. And the Russians delivered,” said Schiff. “You then misled the country about the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting when it became public.”