President Donald Trump on Monday acknowledged a meeting between his son and a Russian lawyer who a family acquaintance promised in June 2016 would provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide Trump’s campaign. Trump said “most politicians” would have accepted such a meeting.
Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2017
The endorsement of the meeting comes after months of Trump saying the entire story of Russian interference in the election, including possible coordination with his campaign, was a “hoax.” Multiple members of the Trump campaign, including Trump himself, frequently denied that anyone from the campaign met with any representatives of the Russian government, a claim that has since been proven false not only by Trump Jr.’s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, but also from multiple campaign officials’ meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and campaign aide Jared Kushner also attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya. Multiple outlets reported Friday that former Russian counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetsin was also in the room. And CNN reported Friday that a representative of the powerful Russian family that asked publicist Rob Goldstone to arrange the meeting was also present, as well as a Russian translator, bringing the total attendance to eight.
When Trump Jr. released “the entire email chain” leading up to the meeting on Tuesday, and in a subsequent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he acknowledged only five attendees — himself, the two campaign aides, Goldstone and Veselnitskaya.
The President’s claims have shifted in recent days regarding what he knew about the meeting, and when. His support of his son, however, has remained constant despite growing evidence that Trump Jr. was not fully forthcoming about the meeting, which he originally said only addressed adoption issues and not dirt on Clinton.
After the Hannity interview, the President called his son’s performance “open, transparent and innocent.”
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2017
He’s since taken his frustration out on Democrats and the media, who he’s said are pushing a “Russian hoax story.”
A member of the President’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, even wondered aloud on Sunday why, if the meeting was so “nefarious,” the Secret Service would allow the Russian visitors in to Trump Tower to attend it — though that fundamentally misrepresents the agency’s role.
To some, Trump’s statement Monday read as an acknowledgement that his son agreed to a meeting in which he intended to collude with a foreign power to influence the election.
I feel like people are treating this like it's just another wacky tweet and it isn't. https://t.co/ieolzLHPKi
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) July 17, 2017
Asked about the meeting, Trump’s nominee for FBI director, Christopher Wray, said in a confirmation hearing Wednesday that “any threat or effort to interfere with our election from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”
This post has been updated.