Fact check: Maaaaaayyyybeeeee, but that ain’t exactly a virtue. It didn’t take long for the press to ask Donald Trump about his son’s changing stories about the meeting with Russian attorney and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, and it took even less time for Trump to shrug it off as nothing unusual. Calling Donald Jr “a wonderful young man,” the president asserted that “most people would have taken that meeting” with the promise of important oppo research on a political opponent:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 13, 2017
Trump took questions alongside French President Emmanuel Macron on a trip to Paris. The reporter noted that FBI Director nominee Chris Wray said yesterday authorities should have been notified of the Russian contact by Trump Jr.
“Most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump answered.
He said it was a “very fast” meeting and it was part of “opposition research [which is] very standard in politics.”
Trump seemed to realize that it’s not all that standard, so he also shifted the blame to previous Attorney General Loretta Lynch for making the meeting possible:
“Somebody said her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Maybe that’s wrong, I just heard that a little while ago. I was surprised to hear it. So she was here because of Lynch,” he said.
That’s a reference to this morning’s scoop from The Hill’s John Solomon. Veselnitskaya only entered on “parole” to help represent a Russia-based business in an asset-forfeiture case with the Department of Justice. That’s thin gruel, though, as Veselnitskaya’s status had little to do with the meeting at hand — and the e-mail chain finally released by Don Jr makes it clear that they had no concern over it anyway.
Even if one was inclined to agree with Trump that “most people would have taken the meeting,” it still doesn’t change the fact that it was a terrible idea. Trump argues here that Veselnitskaya wasn’t a Russian government attorney (a claim that still isn’t entirely settled, by the way), but that’s not what Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort were told when the meeting was proposed. Not only did Goldstone pitch the meeting as one with information from “the Crown prosecutor of Russia,” Goldstone also emphasized that the effort would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” And if it was nothing more than standard operational procedure for opposition research on campaigns, then why did none of the three disclose the meeting when they had the opportunity, and more to the point, keep telling changing stories as it emerged? Clearly they understood that they’d done something worth hiding.
That doesn’t make the meeting a criminal affair either. But “it’s not indictable” is a very strange standard for people to invoke when it comes to holding public officials accountable — not Don Jr who has no official role, but Jared Kushner in this case. And contra Trump’s assertion here, most people with a lick of sense would have known better than to take that meeting directly without vetting the person first, and then running by lower-level staff or outside contractors, as the DNC did with its contacts in the Ukrainian government. The latter is still risky, to be sure, but the former is just plain idiotic, let alone sleazy.
Conservatives have come a long way from ridiculing “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” just to end up excusing “she’s from the Russian government and she’s here to help,” huh?