President Donald Trump’s stated timeline of when he learned about the meeting his eldest son attended as part of an explicit Russian government effort to deliver information that would help his campaign makes little sense and conflicts with reporting about when he was first notified about the meeting.
Trump insists that, like the public, he only learned recently about the meeting Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and adviser, and Paul Manafort, his then-campaign manager, held at his Trump Tower campaign headquarters in June 2016.
Dismissing the uproar over the clearest evidence yet that members of his campaign’s inner circle were willing to accept Russian help, Trump told Reuters on Wednesday afternoon that “many people would’ve had that meeting,” which he only learned about “a couple of days ago.”
By Wednesday evening, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Paris, that timeline had narrowed.
“He had a meeting, nothing happened with the meeting,” Trump said, referring to his 39-year-old son as a “good boy.” “It was a short meeting as he told me—because I only heard about it two or three days ago.”
“As he told me, the meeting went—and it was attended by a couple of other people who—one of them left after a few minutes—which is Jared. The other one was playing with his iPhone,” he added. The iPhone fiddler apparently referred to Manafort.
In the same conversation, Trump conceded that he actually may have been told about the meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, at some point between when the meeting happened last year and when reports about it appeared in the New York Times over the weekend.
“In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” he said. But according to the pool reporters, Trump clarified that he wasn’t told the meeting concerned damaging information about his then-likely presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Those subtle shifts in the President’s account are notable for several reasons: He describes the meeting as told to him by Trump Jr., and he claims he learned about it days after it was first written up in the New York Times.
That breaks sharply with what the Times has reported. In the newspaper’s telling, Trump himself signed off on a Saturday statement that his own aides crafted aboard Air Force One on the way back from the G20 summit and was included in the first article about on the meeting. After debating how forthcoming to be, Trump’s advisers ultimately released a statement that made no mention of the promised dirt on Clinton and said the meeting focused on a stalled program that allowed U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children.
The Times has also reported that Kushner personally notified Trump about the meeting “recently,” at around the same time that he added Veselnitskaya to the list of foreign contacts required to process his application for a top-level security clearance. Though two anonymous people briefed on the exchange told the Times that Kushner diminished the significance of the meeting in that conversation, his notifying the President would have had to predate the publication of the Times story that broke the news of the meeting to the public five days ago.
So what did the President know about what’s become shorthanded as the “Russian lawyer meeting” and when did he know it? For now, it’s unclear.