Trump: Maybe the meeting with the Russian lawyer was mentioned to me at some point
Somewhere Marc Kasowitz is taking antacids by the handful.
In all seriousness, this was the prudent answer, no?
Is he talking about the adoption program there or the meeting with the Russian lawyer? Either way, I think it’s the right response. “He just opened the door to questions about what he knew and when!” critics will say, claiming he was referring to the meeting. But that door was already open. Whether the president knew that his son was meeting a Russian to receive what he thought was Kremlin-provided dirt on Hillary Clinton is the most momentous question mark in American politics right now, the last dot needing to be connected to prove that Trump himself intended to collude with Russia. Acknowledging that the meeting — but not its purpose — might have been mentioned to him at some point is basic ass-covering in case there’s an email from Don Jr somewhere confirming in vague terms that the subject came up in conversation between them. If Trump strongly denied that he ever heard about it and then evidence emerged showing that he had, oh boy.
Besides, we already know for a fact that he was told about the meeting before the Times started reporting on it. Remember this detail from the NYT’s latest story this morning?
Also under scrutiny is how forthcoming Mr. Kushner was with his father-in-law about the nature of the June meeting. He met with Mr. Trump to discuss the issue, according to advisers to the White House, around the time he updated his federal disclosure form to include Ms. Veselnitskaya’s name on a list of foreign contacts that Mr. Kushner was required to submit to the F.B.I. to obtain a security clearance…
Mr. Kushner played down the significance of the meeting and omitted significant details, according to two people who were briefed on the exchange. They said Mr. Kushner informed the president that he had met with a Russian foreign national, and that while he had to report the name, it would not cause a problem for the administration.
The fact that Kushner omitted details of meetings with Russians on his federal disclosure form was public knowledge as far back as three months ago. Is it crazy to think he might have confessed the meeting with Veselnitskaya to Trump back in April while omitting the fact that it was about potential collusion with Russia, knowing that the FBI was probing collusion with Russia at that very moment? Probably Kushner was hoping that no one would ever find out what the meeting with the lawyer was about. Then, within the last few weeks as his attorneys were sorting through his old emails, they stumbled across the exchange between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone on which Jared was cc’d. Suddenly they had a big problem — written proof of intent to collude that would need to be handed over to federal investigators. The purpose of the meeting was going to come out. It could be that it’s only now that the president is getting the full picture.
But there are alternate theories. Maybe Kushner did tell Trump in April what the meeting was about, heightening his urgency to get rid of James Comey. Or maybe Don Jr told dad what the meeting was about the day it happened. The Times has a separate piece out today that tries to fit the timeline of the Don Jr/lawyer meeting into the timeline of the Trump campaign and hacker leaks on the DNC/Podesta. “Conspiracy or coincidence?” the headline asks. This clip was indeed a notable coincidence if Trump didn’t know that the meeting was aimed at digging up Clinton dirt, not Russian adoptions:
Relatedly, lefty Josh Marshall makes a fair point about the original Goldstone email to Trump Jr that started this mess for the White House. Doesn’t the email seem … oddly specific in emphasizing that the dirt is coming from the Russian government? Why not just say “I have a Russian friend who has Clinton oppo” and leave it at that? Marshall compares Goldstone’s tone to that of someone wearing a wire who’s trying to establish wrongdoing by the target of the sting. I think he’s got a point. Here’s Goldstone’s June 3, 2016 email, to refresh your memory:
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.
In two sentences, he mentions twice that the oppo is government-connected (“Crown prosecutor,” “government’s support”) and stresses that it involves “official documents” containing “very high level and sensitive information.” The bit about the government’s support for Trump seems wholly gratuitous, as if it’s included just to prove that Don Jr wouldn’t reply by challenging the claim. One possibility is that Goldstone was inquiring at the Russian government’s behest to “feel out” the Trump campaign on the prospect of more substantial collusion with Putin. If Don Jr was receptive to the meeting with Veselnitskaya, he’d probably be receptive to higher-level cooperation. The other possibility, though, is that it was a set-up: Remember, one theory of the meeting is that the Russians wanted it because they knew it could be used to blackmail the Trumps later — but only if it was made clear to them before they accepted the invitation that collusion with the Russian government itself was being proposed. That would explain the strange specificity of Goldstone’s email. If Goldstone was asked or tasked by the Putinistas to make the approach to Don Jr for this purpose, he would have been told to make it abundantly clear in the written exchange that the oppo was coming from the regime itself. And that’s what he ended up doing. Hmmmm.
Here’s Kellyanne Conway trying to simplify the state of play for America using visual aids. Note the “yet.”