Donald Trump Jr. has made a potentially damaging New York Times report much, much worse.
The Times on Sunday reported that the president's eldest son was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York on June 9, 2016.
As Times reporters Jo Becker, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman explained, Trump Jr.’s motivation for agreeing to the meeting “points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.”
Paul Manafort, the campaign’s chairman at the time, and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, also attended.
Needless to say, the report looks bad for the president, even though his private legal team told the Times that Trump did not participate or even know about the meeting. Trump has a go-to playbook in situations like these: cast doubt on the credibility of unnamed sources (five, in this case) and cry, “Fake news!”
But Trump Jr. took that strategy off the table with a stunningly compromising first response. Check out this excerpt from the Times report:
In a statement on Sunday, Donald Trump Jr. said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance. “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 Ms. 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 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he retaliated by halting 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.
Read that last part again: “the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”
Trump Jr. confirmed that he went into the meeting expecting to receive information from the Russian lawyer that could hurt Clinton. That is a breathtaking admission.
The rest of Trump Jr.’s statement is an attempt to minimize the value of what the lawyer actually told him. The outcome of the meeting and its effect on the presidential race is important, of course, yet it is kind of beside the point.
Trump Jr.’s attempt to obtain information from a Russian lawyer that could harm Clinton seems likely to alarm investigators, regardless of whether the effort proved successful.