Did Putin Weigh Into Crafting The Response To The Don Jr. Trump Tower Meeting?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Last week, we learned that President Trump personally dictated the press release relating to Don Jr’s infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. The press release, which offered lies about what the meeting was about (as well as lies of omission as to how it came about), was dictated by Trump on an Air Force One flight home from the G20 conference in Germany on July 8, 2017. It was the same day that the New York Times broke the story that there had been a meeting 11 months before in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 that was hosted by Donald Trump Jr. and attended by Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya.

We learned that Trump “dictated” the following statement that was issued in the name of his son.

“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up.”

Donald Jr. apparently consented to this wording only after insisting that the word “primarily” be added. He knew that they were engaging in a coverup and that the statement was misleading. Yet, even with his edit the statement remained misleading.

But there is mounting speculation that Trump and Putin worked on the adoption cover story together.

As it happened, President Trump had a prescheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 on July 7. He also had a second meeting that night that had not been scheduled. When this second meeting was revealed, it caused quite an uproar. For one, the White House did not volunteer that the second meeting had taken place. They also couldn’t get their story straight about how long it lasted. Trump said it was “brief” but a senior White House official told CNN the discussion lasted “nearly an hour.” No other American officials were present for the conversation which was a complete violation of protocol, yet Putin had a translator who facilitated the back-and-forth.

The official explanation was that Melania had been seated at dinner with Putin while Trump had been seated far away with the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who did not speak any English. Growing bored, Trump decided to amble over to his wife. In other words, the president sat down to have a nearly hour long private conversation with Putin because Putin just happened to be seated with the First Lady.  All they did was exchange pleasantries.

But on July 7, Trump most likely knew about upcoming New York Times article that was about to break regarding the Trump Tower meeting. ared Kushner’s lawyers had unearthed them at least three weeks prior and updated his security clearance application prompting a visit from the FBI. They also knew that the emails were responsive or would be responsive to both congressional inquiries and the investigation of the Special Counsel. And early on the morning of July 7, 2017 they were approached by reporters from the New York Times who apparently knew about the meeting but not about the emails.

So Trump was probably aware of the Trump Tower issue during his meetings with Putin on July 7, and certainly by his second meeting which was unannounced and at which no other American government official, not even a translator, was present.

Now since early that morning of July 7, the entire Trump team had been scrambling and strategizing to figure how to respond to the Trump Tower meeting story they knew the New York Times was about to report. The subject was obviously on the president’s mind, especially since it centered around his son. Did Trump discuss potential cover stories with Putin during their second meeting? Was that perhaps his real motivation in violating protocol and speaking privately with a foreign head of state with no American officials in tow to be witnesses?

Tellingly, an answer may be hiding in plain site in an interview on July 19 that President Trump gave to the New York Times, you’ll see something very interesting in retrospect.

TRUMP: [Melania] was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.

HABERMAN: You did?

TRUMP: We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting.

So, by his own admission,  the president joined Putin uninvited at the July 7 dinner and discussed Russian adoptions with him. On July 8, on Air Force One, he “dictated” the Russian adoption cover story despite protests from members of his family, legal team and other advisers.

To recap: Trump acknowledges that he had a conversation with Putin on the evening of July 7, 2017 where by his own design no American witnesses other than his wife were present. That entire day, his staff had been preoccupied with figuring out how to respond to an impending nightmare involving the president’s son. Trump, by his own admission, says that he and Putin discussed the adoption issue, which was tied in Putin’s mind to the Magnitsky Act. The president then proceeded to board Air Force One and dictate a partially false and wholly misleading statement over the strong objections of some family members and staff. The statement omitted all references to the Magnitsky Act, sanctions, or dirt on the Clintons and focused exclusively on the adoptions issue that he had just discussed with Putin. The president then lied about having dictated that response, although his lawyers have admitted to the Special Counsel that he was solely responsible for it.

It is almost unthinkable that the president could not have mentioned to Putin the very thing that was preoccupying him that night, especially when we know they discussed adoptions. That the president, who supposedly knew next to nothing about what happened in the Trump Tower meeting until a few days prior, could have come up with the adoptions story on his own and overruled strong voices in his orbit, without it having been discussed the night before with Putin just isn’t plausible.

Since Trump made sure there were no witnesses to the conversation, we’ll never get absolute proof that he and Putin colluded on the cover story.