The White House seems to have settled upon a talking point to defend Donald Trump Jr.: Look at how transparent he's being! After Trump Jr. on Tuesday publicly released those old emails in which he arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer, he and his dad couldn't stop using that word.
- “To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone [publicist for a Russian pop musician] about the meeting on June 9, 2016,” Trump Jr. said in a statement accompanying the emails.
- “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in a brief statement later Tuesday.
- “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent,” the elder Trump tweeted Wednesday morning after Trump Jr.'s Fox News appearance.
- “I'm more than happy to be transparent about it, and I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone,” Trump Jr. said in that interview.
If this is the best argument the White House has, they are really in trouble. First of all, Trump Jr.'s actions in this whole matter have been markedly nontransparent. When the New York Times first reported on his meeting with the Russian lawyer, he said it was primarily about adoption — conveniently leaving out that the meeting was arranged as a means to obtain Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. has also said in the past that he never met with any Russians about the campaign, which has now been directly and completely contradicted.
And secondly, saying Trump Jr. has been transparent is a little like saying someone who forfeited their wallet while being mugged was being generous. It may have sped up the process and saved some drama, but handing over the emails/money wasn't really a choice.
Why? Because even as Trump Jr. was releasing those emails on Twitter, the New York Times was publishing a story based upon them; it already had them in its possession. In its story on them, the Times said it sought comment from Trump Jr., but he didn't respond and then released the emails on his own. This is called getting ahead of the story. It may be a neat trick politically, but it's not transparent. And the emails were, in all likelihood, going to come out regardless of what he did.
“They said they were working on a statement,” Times reporter Adam Goldman told Erik Wemple. “The next thing we know, Donald started dumping the emails on Twitter.”
About the only argument that this had some transparency benefit is that it confirmed the Times's reporting — making it so people would believe the emails were genuine. Basically, Trump Jr. was forfeiting the ability to claim that the Times's story was “fake news.” But that's a really low bar for transparency.
The final point is that, however transparent this move might have been, that's apparently not the White House's MO going forward. At the daily White House press briefing just hours after Trump Jr. tweeted his emails, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly turned aside questions about the matter, saying she wouldn't expand upon the brief statement in bullet point No. 2 above. It happened over and over and over again, with Huckabee Sanders not even touching things tangentially related to that meeting.
At one point, she was asked whether there were other meetings with Russian nationals that the White House might now disclose. “There's nothing that I'm aware of at this time,” Huckabee Sanders said.
The media has reported for months on meetings with Russians after the White House and its allies failed to disclose them or misled about them. Yet the Trump team apparently hasn't done a full accounting of such meetings or doesn't want to share that information. Until it does — and until it doesn't take four days of New York Times stories for Trump Jr. to come clean about such meetings — that transparency claim rings pretty hollow.
And in fact, you can make a pretty strong argument that claiming transparency like this is the opposite of transparency: It's deceptive.