This is a verrrry high level leak, apparently involving people who were aboard Air Force One on the flight home from Germany last month and close enough to the president to know what he was doing hour by hour during the trip. That reminds me of a quote I read somewhere last week in a story about Anthony Scaramucci vowing to purge the leakers from the White House communications team. (Mooch has since been purged himself, of course.) If you want to eliminate leakers in the White House, the source said, don’t worry about the PR people. Worry about Priebus and Bannon and Kushner and Conway.
Were any of them involved in this story? And if so, why?
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”
The claims were later shown to be misleading…
Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
Always a smart idea to make the president complicit in misleading the public about an attempt at collusion with Russians while the DOJ has a special counsel investigating that very subject. The best anyone who spoke to WaPo could do to explain Trump’s reasoning was that “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” Any other White House would quarantine the commander-in-chief from matters having to do with Russiagate that don’t directly involve him. Trump being Trump, he thought he could take control of the problem and talk his way out of it. And ended up making it worse, of course.
Who leaked, though? That’s more interesting than the president’s dunderheaded attempt to spin a mess his son had made. I’ll give you three possibilities.
One: Reince and/or Spicer. It’s a pure revenge operation aimed at embarrassing a boss who treated them shabbily and to whom they no longer owe any loyalty.
Two: It’s Team Jared, widely suspected of having leaked the original news about the meeting with the Russian lawyer to the Times and now — maybe — following up with new leaks to keep spinning the story their way. Why would they do that? Read WaPo’s piece and you’ll see that it mentions at several points that Jared and Ivanka favored being honest about the purpose of the meeting from the outset, expecting that the truth would eventually come out. It was the president who overruled them. The Kushners have a funny habit of coming off as (relatively) competent and upstanding in after-the-fact stories about White House fiascoes. Look no further than yesterday’s Scaramucci meltdown, which they tried to spin, implausibly, as all part of a master plan to take out Reince Priebus. Maybe “Javanka” and/or their lawyers wanted it known that they had every intention of being forthcoming about the meeting. It’s the president who tried to lie to people.
Three: It’s a “virtuous” leak by an ally aimed at getting Trump to wise up and stop doing stupid things like this that deepen the suspicion around Russiagate. There’s nothing new about Trump’s advisors using the media to communicate with him. If they can’t impress upon him the foolishness of a certain course of action in private, whispering it to the press and letting the ensuing public uproar embarrass him is another way to get the point across. If nothing else, letting the president know that there are eyes on him even on Air Force One monitoring his behavior might get him to think twice about further self-sabotaging acts of deception.
Probably not, though.
There’s one other intriguing possibility. It could be that the sources here weren’t on Air Force One but rather … are part of Don Jr’s team, witnesses to the crafting of the statement by being on the other end of the line with the president’s son as he and Trump went back and forth in drafting a final copy. Would Don Jr or his lawyers really dare risk betraying the paterfamilias just to push some blame off of themselves, though? That makes no sense given that Don Jr’s already in trouble for having agreed to meet with Russians to gain oppo on Hillary Clinton, a more significant misstep than putting out a misleading statement. Might as well have him take the fall for the latter too rather than spread culpability throughout the family.
Here’s Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow last month denying that the president had anything to do with drafting Don Jr’s statement. I’ll leave you with the single most cynical line from the WaPo story: “The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.”
FLASHBACK: July 12.
Q: NYT reports Trump signed off on the 1st Don Jr statement.
Jay Sekulow: "The president didn't sign off on anything." pic.twitter.com/1t35nQrdeI
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 1, 2017