When the New York Times learned for the first time that Donald Trump Jr. and other members of President Trump's campaign in 2016 had met with a Trump Tower-related lawyer at the Kremlin during the race, Trump Jr. filed the story in a written declaration.
"It was a short introductory meeting," he said, adding that "we mainly discussed a program on the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and has since been closed by the Russian government, but it was not a problem of the campaign at the time and there was no follow-up. "
As more details about the meeting were discovered, this response was quickly revealed as incomplete or completely misleading. Although the present group – including campaign president Paul Manafort and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner – may have touched on adoptions as part of the fight for a US sanctions law against people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Genesis of the meeting was the promise of negative information about Hillary Clinton, the adversary of Trump's general election.
It is not clear, however, that adoptions have ever come out – and a new Washington Post report raises questions about why this was part of Trump Jr.'s explanation in the first place. Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment noticed how the chronology of Trump Jr.'s explanation overlapped that relationship, which is worth examining in detail.
At the beginning of July 2017, Trump made his second trip abroad as president, stopping in Poland for a summit and then traveling to Hamburg for a group meeting of 20. He arrived on 6 July, the day before the summit began.
7 July 2017
At dawn the next morning, in New York, the Times contacted the White House to ask questions about the meeting. White House officials have asked for more time to respond, planning a teleconference for the morning of July 8th.
At 3:45 pm local time – quarter to 10 on the east coast – Trump and Putin held their first summit in person. Also present were Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and interpreters.
Over the weekend, Greg Miller of The Post reported that Trump took unusual measures to keep details of that conversation confidential. Trump, Miller reported, "[took] possession of the notes of the interpreter and instruct[ed] the linguist not to discuss what had happened with other administration officials. "The only report of the conversation came from Tillerson, who held a briefing with journalists.
That meeting with Tillerson was not the end of Trump-Putin's conversations that day. That evening the two presidents spoke for about 15 minutes during a dinner party at the Group of 20. The only other person present was the interpreter of Putin. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia group, knew about the meeting, which, him He saidTrump had not informed his advisers later.
The content of that conversation?
"Really, more than anything else, it was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, it could be 15 minutes, I just talked about things," Trump told the Times when the conversation came to light days later.
Also that interview with the Times followed the first news about the Trump Tower meeting.
"In fact, it was very interesting," added Trump, "we talked about adoptions … We talked about Russian adoption Yes, I always found it interesting, because, you know, it's over for years And I actually spoke about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was part of Don's conversation [Jr.] had in that meeting. "
When Trump and Putin talked to that dinner, Trump would not necessarily know about the content of that meeting. Trump Jr. did not travel with him to Europe, even though he and his father probably spoke on the phone.
8 July 2017
This statement on the topic of adoptions was written the following day. The proposed conference call between the Times and the White House did not happen, so the Times sent a list of questions to answer. Trump and his brotherhood returned to the United States on July 8, Trump wrote the initial response that Trump Jr. offered to the Times, as reported by The Post at the end of that month.
"Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard the Air Force One," we reported, "Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had "first discussed a program on the adoption of Russian children" when met in June 2016, according to more people with knowledge of the deliberations. "In a memo sent to the team of special advisors of Robert S. Mueller III the & # 39; Last year, Trump's lawyers acknowledged that it was an accurate characterization of the declaration's development.
The Times article was published online on the evening of July 8th. In a short time, Trump Jr.'s statement on adoptions was misleading. The predicate of the meeting was, as evidenced by the emails released, that promise of dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. said – and the Russian lawyer he met with did not deny – that the conversation was focused instead on the Magnitsky Act, against Putin's allies, and Putin's retaliatory ban on adoption of Russian children by the Americans.
That this is a central problem for Putin has been reinforced by the fact that he mentioned it during the press conference after his conversation (also largely private) with Trump in Finland last year. This suggests that it might very well have raised the subject with Trump during the short private conversation during dinner in Hamburg and approved the lawyer who raised the subject during the Trump Tower meeting.
It is possible that Trump, with the topic of adoptions in his mind, modified a planned response to the Times story during that flight of Air Force One to raise a subject that he knew was of interest to the Russians.
But there is another intriguing possibility: that Trump and Putin, taking advantage of the privacy offered by their conversation at that dinner, discussed how to respond to the meeting's existence.
If Trump knew about the early Trump Tower meeting, it was an open question for a long time. Shortly after the meeting was scheduled, he referred to giving a talk revealing dirt on Clinton, the alleged intent of the meeting. Immediately before confirming the meeting, Trump Jr. spoke to someone who called from a blocked number, which is Trump's home number.
If he and Putin discussed an answer to the Times during that conversation in Hamburg, however, it raises the possibility that Putin also knew about the meeting. If so, suggest that Putin's involvement in that meeting could be more meaningful than was suggested. (It took months before the lawyer admitted his ties to the Kremlin).
This is speculative. But, as Weiss observes, it comes from the central question of The Post: why did Trump do anything to keep his conversations private with Putin?