During the White House news briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that President Trump was just being a good dad when he put together a misleading statement for his 39-year-old son about his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer.
“The statement that Don Jr. issued is true,” Sanders said. “There’s no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had.”
“This is all discussion frankly of no consequence,” she continued. “There was no follow up, it was disclosed to the proper parties — which is how the New York Times found out about it to begin with. The Democrats want to continue to use this as a PR stunt, and are doing everything they can to keep this story alive and in the papers every single day.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders says President Trump “weighed in” on Donald Trump Jr.‘s statement as “any father would” https://t.co/7edp9OLij9
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 1, 2017
Sanders is referring to a misleading statement Trump Jr. released to try and tamp down controversy about a meeting that occurred between himself, then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, White House adviser Jared Kusher, and a Russian lawyer who promised to provide Trump campaign officials with incriminating Kremlin-provided information about Hillary Clinton.
In that statement, Trump Jr. claimed the meeting was “primarily” about “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 the word “adoption” doesn’t appear a single time in the emails Trump Jr. released a few days later that show how the meeting was set up. Instead, they show that Trump Jr. was eager to meet with a Russian lawyer after an intermediary emailed him and said she had damaging information about Clinton that she wanted to share.
Throughout the controversy, Trump Jr. has been characterized by Trump and other White House officials as an “honest boy” and a “good kid” — positioned as Trump’s innocent young son rather than a father of five making his own decisions.
Sanders’ acknowledgment that the president “weighed in” on his son’s statement is a departure from what Trump’s private lawyer said just a couple weeks ago. “I do want to be clear the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement,” Jay Sekulow said during the July 16 edition of Meet the Press, emphasizing that the statement came from Trump Jr. and his lawyer without input from the president.
But on Monday, the Washington Post reported that Trump in fact personally dictated his son’s statement.
When the president’s involvement in his Trump Jr.’s statement came up again during Tuesday’s briefing, Sanders quickly pivoted to talking about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s alleged effort to collude with Ukraine — an allegation that has already been widely debunked.
Trump put together the statement for his son while he was traveling aboard Air Force One with his aides. As CNN has previously detailed, Trump and his aides’ involvement in drafting a statement that attempted to cover up the true reasons for his campaign surrogates’ meeting with the Russian lawyer could expose White House officials to new legal jeopardy.
“A sensitive legal matter such as [drafting Trump Jr.’s statement] would normally have been handled by the attorneys, given that it was about the Russia investigation,” CNN reported. “[Aides] can now be called on by investigators led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to explain what they may have learned about the meeting that the President’s eldest son, Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with the Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.”