That Donald Trump could blithely now just blurt out that the notorious meeting in Trump Tower actually was a blown attempt to get dirt on opponent Hillary Clinton seems at once a significant development and a sad reflection about the role of truth.
The president’s weekend tweet, issued to protect his son, Donald Jr., was an admission that should draw yet increased attention from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is exploring the degree to which Russian meddling in the election was invited, developed and coordinated with the Trump campaign.
Legal niceties aside, the admission should be seen as evidence towards consideration of any charges related to collusion.
And it certainly should underscore the case the special counsel is making to interview President Trump about his actions, statements and oversight of his campaign.
As Axios noted, “It’s one of the most striking public reversals in modern presidential history, even though he made a similar point before, and even though it was done casually via an early morning tweet. It involves Russia, Air Force One, a presidential son, shady operatives, allegations of collusion and a federal probe — all in one.”
This is the President admitting on the record that he misled the American people about the purpose of that meeting – which he still says he knew nothing about in advance.
Given Trump’s record on closely tracking all things that affect him personally, that claim seems another misleading note; are we really to believe that Donald Jr. would not have told his father of the approach by Russian lawyers who turned out to be operatives? Besides, we now have indications from former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen that Trump indeed did know and discuss the coming Trump Tower meeting before it happened.
The tweet itself raised more questions than it answered. Trump tweeted: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. 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!”
After all, if there is no collusion, and collusion is not generally referring to a crime, why has it been necessary for Trump and his lawyers to deny the events, lie about them even, for more than a year?
But it was Trump who had dictated a statement to the media saying the meeting was about primarily about the adoption of Russian children, not campaign dirt offered by shady Russians with connections to Putin. “Fake news” indeed – it was Trump who manufactured fake news about the reasons for the meeting.
As for fabricating reports from within the White House that his own people have heard the president bemoan that his son might be caught in collusion investigations, why is this the fault of the press?
It is Trump and his lawyers who now are arguing that there is no crime in colluding with the Russians. The Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit foreign nationals from directing, dictating, controlling, or directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process in elections, and bar soliciting or accepting money or contributions of value from a foreign party.
It seems pretty clear that setting up the meeting – soliciting the meeting and dirt – is legally verboten.
A year ago, during a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump said: “I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent.” He added: “Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.”
Maybe Trump should have just owned up to the meeting and its circumstances up front, and not wait the year plus that he now decries as “Witch Hunt” to acknowledge a basic truth. Maybe he should not have spent the year continually distancing himself from the meeting. Maybe he should have used the findings about the meeting, along with a load of other contacts with Russian meddlers, to actually tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin that it needs to stop now.
To remind us, The Washington Post noted that the Trump Tower meeting also included Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, who is on trial over tax and bank fraud charges after being indicted by Mueller. Trump’s tweet conflicts with a statement that Trump Jr. released to the New York Times in July 2017, as the newspaper prepared to report about the meeting. In that statement, Trump Jr. indicated that the meeting had been “primarily” about the issue of the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Amid an uproar over the meeting, the president’s son was forced to release follow-up statements, ultimately acknowledging that the meeting’s true purpose had been to get dirt about Hillary Clinton from a lawyer he had been told was working for the Russian government.
Donald Jr. repeated that adoption line in testifying to congressional investigators, meaning that Donald Jr. could face a legal problem with perjury to Congress.
By itself, this is just another tweet, sort of admitting something, sort of continuing to muddy the waters.
As part of the Trump record, however, this tweet is an important sign that Trump has no respect for the American public, for the state of the nation or for the office of the presidency. He cares about himself and his family, and he cannot tell the difference between self-serving remarks and truth. That’s a bad combination.