35 minutes: Kellyanne Conway vs. Chris Cuomo on Trump Jr., Russiagate, and CNN

How long did it go? Cuomo starts talking about wrapping things up around minute 20, slightly more than … halfway through. At least watch until 8:00 or so, when he challenges Conway on the dwindling credibility of a man to whom some in Trump’s inner circle refer as “Fredo” and she deadpans, “I admire your moxie, sitting there with the CNN chyron right near you talking about credibility issues.” Rarely has the problem of being caught between unreliable narrators been as vivid as it is here.

An intriguing question from the Times’s scoop: Who snitched on Junior and why? After the Times first reported his meeting with Kushner, Manafort, and the Russian lawyer on Saturday, Donald Jr put out a statement claiming that the four had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” Less than 24 hours later the Times was back with a second scoop, that the purpose of the meeting was actually to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton to the campaign. Don Jr then dutifully put out a second statement acknowledging that an acquaintance had arranged the meeting in the belief that the Russian lawyer “might have information helpful to the campaign.” (Supposedly nothing came of it and they ended up discussing adoption and the Magnitsky Act.) Who told the Times what the real purpose of the meeting was, embarrassing Junior and forcing him to put out that second statement? The dastardly villains of Bob Mueller’s investigative team? Not quite:

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

Which advisors to the White House would dare risk the president’s wrath by whispering to the Times that his son was lying about the true purpose of his meeting during the campaign with a Russian lawyer? I’ve seen people on social media speculating that it might be Jared Kushner’s lawyers, as Kushner recently disclosed the meeting with the lawyer as part of his amended SF-86. But what would Kushner or his lawyers gain by exposing dissembling by Donald Jr? A possible answer:

It looks highly sketchy for Jared, who already has Russiagate problems, to have attended a meeting with a Kremlin-tied Russian lawyer to obtain Hillary dirt … unless he was just an unwitting bystander, invited to attend by the candidate’s son. This was Don Jr’s show. Kushner was merely collateral damage. That explains why his lawyers might have told the Times about Junior’s role in brokering the meeting but it doesn’t quite explain why they would also reveal the meeting’s true purpose. Putting their client in the same room with a Russian looking to smear Hillary Clinton darkens the “collusion” cloud over Kushner even if you believe that Don Jr was the motive force in making the meeting happen. The best I can do to explain it is speculate that, if it is Team Jared, they’re signaling to Bob Mueller that they might be willing to cooperate in the probe and implicate others in the White House. Although why couldn’t they signal that privately? Why go running to the Times and announce the true purpose of a meeting that makes their own client look more compromised than before?

If it wasn’t Kushner’s people, then who told the Times about Don Jr and the Russian lawyer? Normally we would try to fit this backbiting into the traditional template of White House rivalries — Team Jared versus Team Bannon with Team Reince operating on the margins, etc — but Donald Jr doesn’t work at the White House and I’m unaware of any enemies he supposedly has there. Are there any “White House advisors” with whom the president himself is on the outs, who might want to take revenge by whispering to the Times?

Another good question via David Graham: How can it be, as Don Jr claims, that the president wasn’t aware of this meeting when it happened?

The family tie becomes important if Trump Jr.’s second account of his meeting is taken at face value, which is admittedly challenging. He wants the public to believe that he, Kushner, and Manafort met with a Russian who claimed to have damaging information about Trump’s opponent, but did not tell the candidate himself; that this happened even though Trump Jr. and Kushner are close to Trump Sr., and that Trump was at Trump Tower, the site of the meeting, that day, where he lunched with Manafort. In other words, it is difficult to believe that Donald Trump did not learn about the meeting soon after it happened. The president continues to question whether Russia really interfered in the election, so either he’s being disingenuous or his son and son-in-law have kept him in the dark. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.” (On Monday morning, the Kremlin also denied knowledge of the meeting.)

I could understand farming out the meeting with the Russian lawyer to a low-level surrogate, to keep the campaign’s fingerprints off it as much as possible. But what’s the point of keeping the candidate in the dark when three of the most powerful people on the campaign are in the meeting? Plausible deniability that Trump might have known was gone as soon as his campaign manager agreed to attend.