The president’s son, son-in-law and former campaign manager are expected to testify July 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about foreign influence on the U.S. election — in particular, about their meeting with a Russian attorney with ties to the Kremlin who they believed would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
Although the president now praises his son for being “transparent” about the meeting, Donald Trump Jr.’s statements about the ordeal shifted as more information was reported publicly. And what we know so far contradicts his earlier statements denying setting up a meeting with a Russian national for campaign purposes. (Moreover, the White House and Trump’s team repeatedly denied having contacts with Russian nationals.)
We compiled a timeline of what the public found out when about the meeting, and what Trump Jr. and Trump said about the developments. We will update this timeline as necessary.
July 2016: Trump Jr. says claims that Russia tried to help Trump win are ‘lies’
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper asked Trump Jr. about then-Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook’s suggestion that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee network to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Trump Jr. called the claims “lies.”
“Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You notice he won’t say, well, I say this. We hear experts. You know, here’s (INAUDIBLE) at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians. It’s disgusting. It’s so phony. I watched him bumble through the interview, I was able to hear it on audio a little bit. I mean, I can’t think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.”
Now we know that just one month before this interview, Trump Jr. set up a meeting with a Russian attorney whom he believed would offer dirt on Clinton involving “very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
March 2017: Trump Jr. denies setting up any meetings with Russian nationals for campaign purposes
In an interview with the New York Times, Trump Jr. denied that he had participated in any meetings with Russians relating to the presidential campaign.
“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he told the Times. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
This statement turned out to be false.
July 8, 2017: The Times reveals Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney during the campaign; Trump Jr. says it was about Russian adoptions
The Times broke the story that in June 2016, when his father was the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also attended, the Times reported.
For years, Veselnitskaya worked to overturn the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that blocks Russians who are suspected of human rights abuses. After former president Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by blocking adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents.
Trump Jr. confirmed that the meeting took place — which contradicts his March 2017 denial to the Times.
In his statement, Trump Jr. said the meeting was primarily about the adoption program.
In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said: “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 the time and there was no follow up.”
He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Trump Jr. was not forthcoming about the motivations behind this meeting, which we would find out the next day.
July 9, 2017: The Times reveals that Trump Jr. met with the attorney for incriminating information on Clinton; Trump Jr. says it was about the campaign and adoptions
The Times reported that Trump Jr. was, in fact, promised damaging information about Clinton before arranging the meeting with Veselnitskaya. It was unclear whether the attorney actually produced damaging information about Clinton at the meeting, but the expectation was that she would, the Times reported.
Trump Jr.’s response then shifted, acknowledging that he had met with her for campaign information, but that the meeting turned out to be about adoptions.
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.
“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted two days after his meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit that Putin had denied Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
On “Fox News Sunday,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called the Trump Jr. meeting a “big nothing burger” that was about adoptions:
“I don’t know much about it other than what I’ve communicated with various members there on the screen. It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption and after about 20 minutes, the meeting ended and that was the end of it. … I don’t know much about it other than it seems to be on the end of the Trump individuals a big nothing burger but may spin out of control for the DNC and the Democrats.”
July 10, 2017: The Times reports email exchange between Trump Jr. and man who brokered meeting
The Times then reported the existence of an email exchange with Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the intermediary who helped broker the meeting with Veselnitskaya. Goldstone is a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, whose father is a major real estate developer close to Putin and who worked with Trump in 2013 to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
Sources who described the emails said Trump Jr. was promised potentially damaging information on Clinton via the Russian government.
Trump Jr.’s lawyer said in a statement that “this is much ado about nothing.” The attorney, Alan Futerfas, acknowledged this meeting was set up with the expectation that Trump Jr. would receive information on Clinton.
“In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia,” Futerfas told the Times in an email. “Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”
Trump Jr. tweeted sarcastically about opposition research. Again, this contradicts his March 2017 claim to the Times that he had not set up any meetings with Russians about campaign-related issues.
July 11, 2017: Emails released show the facts contradicted several previous statements by Trump Jr.
The Times obtained the email exchange. Moments before the Times story posted, Trump Jr. released the emails on Twitter, claiming he did so to be “totally transparent.”
The emails confirmed the Times’s reporting. From the outset, Trump Jr. set up the meeting to receive confidential and potentially damaging information on Clinton, provided through the Russian government.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. wrote to Goldstone, referring to when his father officially would be the GOP candidate.
Later that day, Trump Jr. told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that he left the meeting feeling annoyed because the attorney wanted to talk about adoptions rather than giving incriminating information on Clinton. The Kremlin said it was not aware of the meeting, and Veselnitskaya said she was not acting on behalf of the government.
The email chain contradicted several previous Trump Jr. statements:
- Trump Jr. initially said he had not set up a meeting, and that he never met with a Russian national for campaign reasons. That was not true.
- Trump Jr. obscured the purpose of setting up the meeting when he initially claimed the meeting was primarily about the adoption issue.
- Trump Jr. said he did not know the name of the attorney who would attend the meeting. It’s unclear whether this is true; Goldstone wrote two days before the meeting that he would send the names to Trump Jr. in advance for security purposes.
- Trump Jr. in July 2016 blamed Democrats for making up lies that the Russian government was helping Trump get elected. Yet the previous month, he knew from the email exchange with Goldstone that there were Russian attempts to help his father.
July 12-18, 2017: Trump and Trump Jr. offer the misleading defense that it was ‘standard’ opposition research
Over the next several days, it was revealed that there were at least eight people attending the meeting, including a Russian-American lobbyist and a man who was the subject of a congressional investigation into foreign money-laundering operations using U.S. banks.
Trump’s lawyer repeatedly said that Trump was not involved in drafting and did not sign off on his son’s original statement on July 8 in response to the Times’ reporting. This would turn out to be false.
On July 12, Trump commented publicly for the first time about his son’s meeting. Trump and his son continue to characterize this as an ordinary move by campaigns conducting opposition research.
But this is misleading, and yet another attempt to spin the truth.
Veterans of previous presidential campaigns from both parties said it would be very odd and highly unusual to accept opposition research from foreign officials. For example, ahead of a presidential debate during the 2000 campaign, then-Vice President Al Gore’s adviser Tom Downey received a package with information that was stolen from the George W. Bush campaign. Downey, who was helping Gore with debate preparation at the time, turned the material over to the FBI. He recused himself from further debate work to avoid the perception of improper advantage, and the campaign alerted the Associated Press about what happened, along with a detailed timeline.
From the chief strategist of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign:
Gary Maloney, a longtime GOP opposition researcher, told The Post: “I do not fault Donald Jr. for wanting to win. He seeks more data, more leads — nothing wrong there. But where was the campaign team? The manager’s job is to protect the candidate and family from blowback. I worked in Bush ’88 — would [campaign manager] Lee Atwater have allowed George W. at such a sitdown? Inconceivable. Would John Podesta have allowed Chelsea Clinton in this meeting? Impossible.”
July 31, 2017: The Washington Post reveals that Trump dictated his son’s original, misleading statement — contradicting Trump’s attorney’s statements earlier in July.
“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.”
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