Like I said when WaPo broke this story earlier this month, it would be bananas for Trump’s inner circle to let him get involved in drafting a misleading statement about possible campaign collusion with Russia, knowing that Mueller’s already looking at him and them for precisely that reason. But if you believe WaPo, that’s exactly what happened. Supposedly, after news of Junior’s meeting first broke in July, Trump himself “personally dictated” a statement issued by Junior claiming that the meeting was about the Russian adoption program, not campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Fast-forward four weeks and it turns out Mueller wants to know if the president was involved in drafting that misleading statement. Go figure.
Federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are keenly focused on President Donald Trump’s role in crafting a response to a published article about a meeting between Russians and his son Donald Jr., three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The sources told NBC News that prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose…
A person familiar with Mueller’s strategy said that whether or not Trump made a “knowingly false statement” is now of interest to prosecutors.
“Even if Trump is not charged with a crime as a result of the statement, it could be useful to Mueller’s team to show Trump’s conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges.”
Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, insists the statement about the Russian adoption program wasn’t untruthful. That subject did come up at the meeting. It, er, just wasn’t the only subject that came up. Question for legal eagles: What crime could Trump plausibly be charged with for helping to draft a misleading statement about the Russia meeting? It’s shady to lie to the public (by omission, if you believe Cobb) but a lie told to a third party isn’t necessarily obstruction of justice just because it relates to a pending investigation, is it? He wasn’t under oath; for all we know, all the major players like Don Jr and Manafort have been forthcoming with Mueller himself about the true purpose of the meeting. Heck, it wasn’t even technically the president’s statement that was misleading. It was a statement he drafted for Don Jr. A sitting president’s not getting indicted for that.
But that’s not the point. Proving that Trump was willing to mislead the public about the meeting with the Russian lawyer would be useful to Mueller in other ways. It would raise the question of when the president first learned what the true purpose of the meeting was. Was it last month after the news broke, as he claims, or did he know about it back when it first happened? Relatedly, if he was willing to lie in Don Jr’s statement, what else has he lied about with respect to Russiagate? Why not come clean about the purpose of the meeting from the beginning and say that it was ill-advised, nothing came of it, and deal with the fallout from that? It seems ominous that NBC’s source is talking about “other charges” that may be brought against the president. If Mueller’s planning to indict him for obstruction in the Flynn matter, say, this Don Jr episode could be used as evidence of his willingness to try to derail investigations. He tried to stop the Flynn probe, allegedly, by nudging Comey; he tried to trip up the Russiagate probe, allegedly, by putting out a misleading statement in his son’s name.
Coincidentally, GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis is trying to ride to Trump’s rescue in the House:
DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign.
The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.
Under normal circumstances Senate Democrats would never let a bill with that amendment pass. Under the current circumstances, in the name of averting a shutdown by passing the underlying spending bill, they … still would never let that pass. That’s be an interesting standoff, though: Imagine if government funding got held up because Dems wouldn’t agree to limit Mueller’s probe. Would the public side with Schumer on that, on the theory that an investigation as potentially momentous as Russiagate needs to proceed without interference, or would they side with the GOP, on the theory that there’s no reason to give Mueller an open checkbook and a license for a fishing expedition into Trump’s past for an investigation that’s ostensibly about Russian campaign interference? I think McConnell and Ryan are sufficiently leery of shutdowns that they won’t allow DeSantis’s amendment to make it into the final bill for fear of the political fallout. Chances are, if the government shuts down, the party in control of government — which has also been conspicuously more comfortable with shutdowns over the past eight years than Democrats were — will be blamed.