Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

Trump aides' stunning cry for help: Admitting the president misled the American people

By Aaron Blake

August 1, 2017 at 6:00 AM

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President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

President Trump hates leaks. He hired Anthony Scaramucci 10 days ago to very publicly root them out, and he has even attacked his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for not investigating them aggressively enough.

But oftentimes with Trump, a leak isn't just a leak; it's an effort to save him from himself.

Such is the case with The Washington Post's big scoop Monday night that Trump personally dictated the highly misleading initial statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016. Anonymous White House advisers said they had settled on a plan to be transparent about the meeting, only to have the president come in at the 11th hour and decide to try and withhold the whole truth. The result, at Trump's personal direction, was a statement that claimed the meeting was about adoption, when in fact the stated purpose of it was opposition research -- supposedly from the Russian government -- about Hillary Clinton.

Check out this detailed blow-by-blow from The Post's Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Tom Hamburger about how the Trump team responded to the New York Times learning about the meeting:

[White House director of strategic communications Hope] Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, [Jared] Kushner's team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

The discussions among the president's advisers consumed much of the day, and they continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.'s meeting.

The president directed that Trump Jr.'s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

And now look at these comments from anonymous advisers:

"This was . . . unnecessary," said one of the president's advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. "Now someone can claim he's the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn't want you to say the whole truth."

And here:

Trump, advisers say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

"He refuses to sit still," the presidential adviser said. "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."

And this:

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a cover-up. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

The White House's first six months, of course, have been littered with internal leaks. Many of them are owed to the warring factions within the West Wing and dissension in the broader administration. But every so often you see this kind of leak: the send-a-message-to-the-boss leak -- the spreading of unhelpful information about the president because advisers see no other way to make it stop.

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A timeline of Donald Trump Jr.'s comments and contradictions about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in June of 2016. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

And even in that line of reporting, this is a pretty remarkable cry for help. In this story, they're admitting that he is personally responsible for deliberately misleading the American people about a major topic of the Russia investigation. They're saying that he did something that could very well be construed as a cover-up and could damage his legal defense. The reason? Because they apparently can't prevail upon him in person and they think he simply doesn't get what kind of jeopardy he is putting himself in.

Part of it may simply be exasperation, as well. When you, as a White House staffer, continue to have to put up with the boss's unpredictable whims and furthering of unhelpful story lines (i.e. Russia was on my mind when I fired FBI Director James B. Comey), it's liable to lead to this kind of leaking.

Trump will surely view this as an effort by the deep state and/or the media to undermine him. He'd be better off understanding it for what it is: a desperate effort to help him help himself. After all, in this case, the advisers were right. The truth all came out in rather short order, and Trump only made it worse.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, second from right, pose for photographs with the University of Utah ski team during an event with NCAA championship teams at the White House.
President Trump visits the U.S. Capitol to meet with Republicans on the day the House will be voting on its tax bill.
Trump speaks about his Asia trip in the diplomatic reception room of the White House.
President Trump receives a bomber jacket from Air Force personnel during an event at Yokota Air Base at Fussa, near Tokyo.
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold up hats they have both signed that read “Donald and Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan.
Trump and Abe meet with their wives Melania Trump and Akie Abe for a dinner at a restaurant in Tokyo.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, accompanied by Adm. Harry Harris, left, and his wife Bruni Bradley, throw flower pedals while visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.
First lady Melania Trump listens as President Trump speaks with reporters at the White House before departing from the South Lawn in Marine One for a trip to Asia.
President Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photo with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family during Halloween celebrations at the White House.
Trump departs in his motorcade after an afternoon at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
President Trump hands out candy to children of journalists and White House staffers for Halloween in the Oval Office.
Trump holds up a presidential memorandum to declare the opioid crisis a national public-health emergency after signing it at the White House.
President Trump takes questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on his way to Marine One before departing for Texas to attend a briefing on hurricane relief efforts.
President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pose with winners from the National Minority Enterprise Development Week Awards Program in the Oval Office of the White House.
A protester throws Russian flags as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), center left, walks with President Trump to the Senate Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.
Trump bestows the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, shake hands during a joint statement in the Rose Garden.
Boeing Executive Vice President Kevin McAllister, right, and Singapore Airlines chief executive Goh Choon Phong, along with Trump and Singapore Prime Minister Loong, attend a signing ceremony for airplane sales at the White House.
Trump, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster by his side, shakes hands with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in the Oval Office.
Trump, center right, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico, center left, and others meet in the Oval Office.
Trump, right, listens as Rosselló speaks in the Oval Office.
Trump, flanked by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), speaks during a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee and members of his economic team in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump waits at the West Wing of the White House for the arrival of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Trump meets with Tsipras in the Oval Office.
Trump answers a reporter’s question during a news conference with Tsipras in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump talks with Hope Hicks, White House communications director, between radio interviews at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump makes a statement on Iran policy in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, speaks to the news media on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump prepares to hand the pen he used to sign an executive order on health care to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
Trump congratulates Kirstjen Nielsen after nominating her to be secretary of homeland security in the East Room of the White House.
Trump shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, left, and first lady Melania Trump look on from the Oval Office of the White House.
Trump speaks in Middletown, Pa.
Trump honors the NHL’s Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the East Room of the White House.
Trump departs Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
Trump speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the East Room of the White House as Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, left, first lady Melania Trump and Treasurer Jovita Carranza listen.
Trump holds up the signed National Manufacturing Day Proclamation in the Oval Office.
Trump speaks during a briefing with senior military leaders at the White House.
Trump speaks as he and the first lady meet with first responders at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Trump talks with residents during a walking tour with the first lady in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit the island.
Trump makes a statement about the mass shooting in Las Vegas from the Diplomatic Room at the White House.
Trump speaks to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
Trump stops to greet people as he walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump takes a group photo with members of the National Security Council on the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds.
Trump shakes hands with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during a meeting in the Oval Office.
Trump and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hold a joint a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House.
Trump speaks before signing a memorandum to expand access to STEM, science technology engineering and math, education, in the Oval Office.
Trump greets Sen. Luther Strange at a campaign rally for the Republican in Huntsville, Ala.
Trump meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Palace Hotel in New York.
Trump arrives with first lady Melania Trump, right, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Trump speaks during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
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The Trumps and Vice President Pence tour Naples Estates, an area in Florida damaged by Hurricane Irma.
The Trumps participate in a moment of silence at the White House in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis greet members of the military after a Sept. 11 memorial service at the Pentagon.
The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, and Trump hold translation earphones as a reporter asks a question at a news conference in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and Pence meet with House and Senate leaders at the White House.
Trump speaks alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as they hold a meeting about tax overhaul in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump waves as he departs St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington with first lady Melania Trump after they attended services for a national “Day of Prayer” for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Assistant rector D. Andrew Olivo is at center.
Trump gives a little girl a kiss as he and the first lady greet Harvey evacuees in Houston.
The first lady and the vice president look on as the president holds up a FEMA damage-assessment map of Texas.
Trump holds up the Texas state flag after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts at a fire station where people gathered to welcome him in Corpus Christi.
Trump shakes hands with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto during their joint news conference in Washington.
Trump shows his signature after signing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act into law at the American Legion convention in Reno, Nev.
Trump participates in a tour of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, Ariz.
Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, looks up toward the solar eclipse without glasses from a balcony at the White House.
At the White House, Trump displays a memorandum he signed addressing China’s trade practices.
At his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., Trump speaks about the violent protests in Charlottesville, that turned deadly.
Trump attends a workforce-development discussion at his club in Bedminster, N.J. From left: senior adviser Jared Kushner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the president, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, aide Andrew Bremberg and Ivanka Trump.
Trump speaks to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster in Bedminster.
Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, center, talk with a patient via a tablet during the “telehealth” event.
Trump, flanked by Sens. Tom Cotton (R- Ark.), left, and David Perdue (R-Ga.), speaks in the Roosevelt Room during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration.
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Trump shake hands after Kelly’s private swearing-in ceremony in the Oval Office.
Police applaud a line by Trump during remarks about his proposed government effort against the MS-13 gang at a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Brentwood, N.Y.
Trump presents the Medal of Valor to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner during the ceremony honoring first responders at the shooting that took place during a Republican baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va.
Trump greets, from left, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Vice President Pence, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Terry Gou, chief executive of Foxconn, in the East Room of the White House after announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for the electronics giant.
Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri walk to the Rose Garden of the White House for a joint news conference.
Trump waves to the Boy Scout troops and leaders assembled at the group’s national jamboree in West Virginia.
Trump and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), second from left, stand for the colors during the commissioning ceremony of the “supercarrier” USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk.
Trump greets guests during a meeting in the Oval Office with survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
Photo Gallery: A look at the second half, so far, of the president?s first year in the White House.

Further reading:

Trump's lawyer repeatedly denied Trump was involved in Trump Jr.'s statement. But he was.

Who are the Trump White House leakers? In Lincoln's day, it might have been his wife.

The White House was shocked — shocked, I tell you — by Anthony Scaramucci's potty mouth

Republicans are starting to draw red lines on Trump firing Sessions and Mueller


Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.

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