Did President Trump Dictate the False Statement? Or Was It President Putin?

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Below we discussed the big Washington Post story about President Trump’s role writing what turned out to be a false statement on behalf of his son Don Jr. about that meeting with the Russian lawyer in June 2016. I want to flag a timeline that may be relevant and which may tie together the false Don Jr. statement dictated by the President on Air Force One on July 8th and the conversation Trump had with President Vladimir Putin earlier that evening.

Let’s piece together some published information and dates. 

According to The Washington Post, the President’s advisers were actively discussing the coming New York Times Don Jr. story on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany last month. The G20 Summit was on July 7th and 8th.

From the Post …

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

From this it seems clear that this was an active discussion on Friday July 7th and Saturday July 8th and likely before.

President Trump and Putin had their first public meeting on Friday July 7th. Later in July it was revealed that the two men had a second unreported meeting on the Saturday the 8th at a dinner for assembled heads of state and their spouses.

What did they discuss? According to President Trump in an interview with The New York Times on July 19th they discussed adoption. From the Times interview …

TRUMP: [Melania] was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.

HABERMAN: You did?

TRUMP: We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting. As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, “By the way, we have information on your opponent,” I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], “Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?” They just said——

This was a dinner on Saturday July 8th. Hours later Trump was in the air on Air Force One returning to the United States when he dictated the Don Jr. statement. Here’s the crux of the statement.

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. 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.

It means one thing if it happens that Putin and Trump discussed adoption and it just so happens that that’s what Trump Jr. also discussed with the Russian lawyer. It’s a bit different if we know that Trump actually wrote Trump Jr.’s account and he is actually the author of that false statement.

So, let’s run through what appears to be the chain of events.

July 7th: On or before Friday July 7th Trump advisors and lawyers begin discussing how to respond to press inquiries about Don Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who an intermediary told Trump Jr. had information tied to the Russian government’s support for Trump’s candidacy.

July 7th: Presidents Trump and Putin meet for first meeting.

July 8th: Presidents Trump and Putin meet for a second, unreported meeting, at which they discussed Russian adoptions, according to President Trump.

July 8th: Late evening, President Trump overrules advisers and lawyers to dictate a statement for his son in which he claims that the topic of the June 2016 meeting was Russian adoptions.

There are some important caveats here. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has been lobbying for some time for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act. As part of its retaliation for Magnitsky, the Russian government banned US adoptions. So the two things are connected. Whatever else they were discussing, it still seems to be the case that Veselnitskaya pushed her case about the Magnitsky Act in the Trump Tower meeting. So it’s not implausible that she discussed adoptions. She may well have. It’s also true that “adoptions” are sometimes a code word for sanctions in discussions with Russian government officials. So again, there are alternative, less damning explanations.

But piecing together this timeline and based on President Trump’s own account, we can say that he knew his advisers were discussing how to respond to a press story about the June 2016 meeting. He had a secret conversation with President Putin at which they discussed the issue of Russian adoptions. Then hours later he dictated a false statement to be released in the name of his son in which he claimed that Russian adoptions were the topic of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. That is a highly troubling chain of events to put it mildly.

Perhaps these things are unrelated. But it certainly seems worth asking what the two men discussed, whether President Trump raised the need to respond to this story with President Putin and whether the discussion with Putin was the basis of the statement Trump dictated on his son’s behalf.

[Ed.note: I initially got onto this idea from a tweet from my friend Laura Rozen who asked what I took to be a rhetorical question about whether Trump and Putin discussed the statement. I poked around and discovered what I discussed above. Later I realized that higher up in her thread Laura had flagged the same points. So she made this connection before I did.]

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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