Trump acknowledges purpose of meeting with Russian lawyer
President Donald Trump on Sunday acknowledged that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Kremlin-connected lawyer and his son was to collect information about his political opponent, casting new light on a moment central to the special counsel's Russia probe.
Trump, amid a series of searing tweets sent from his New Jersey golf club, 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.
"Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower," Trump wrote.
"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!"
But 13 months ago, Trump gave a far different explanation for the meeting. A July 2017 statement dictated by the president read: "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago."
But since then, the story about the meeting has changed several times, eventually forced by the discovery of emails 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. And despite Trump's public Twitter denial, the president has expressed worry that his son may face legal exposure even as he believes he did nothing wrong, according to three people close to the White House familiar with the president's thinking but not authorised to speak publicly about private conversations.
Sekulow acknowledged that the public explanation for the meeting has changed but insisted that the White House has been very clear with the special counsel's office. He said he was not aware of Trump Jr. facing any legal exposure.
"I don't represent Don Jr.," Sekulow said, "but I will tell you I have no knowledge at all of Don Jr. being told that he's a target of any investigation, and I have no knowledge of him being interviewed by the special counsel."