Over the weekend, the New York Times broke news that President Trump personally dictated a misleading statement attributed to his son, Donald Trump Jr., that presented a misleading narrative about the infamous meeting Trump Jr. and other senior Trump campaign officials had with Russian operatives at Trump Tower.
That statement, released last July, claimed the June 2016 meeting was “primarily” about Russian adoptions — not, as emails Trump Jr. subsequently released revealed was really the case, to obtain political dirt about Hillary Clinton.
On August 1, 2017, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the press that Trump “certainly didn’t dictate” his son’s statement.
“He weighed in, offered suggestions — as any father would do,” Sanders said at the time.
On Monday, Sanders was repeatedly asked to clarify the disconnect between her comments last summer and what the Trump legal team now acknowledges — that Trump dictated the letter.
Sanders, however, repeatedly refused to field questions about her own statement.
“You said last August that the president did not dictate the statement about the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, but the lawyers wrote to the special counsel that the president did dictate the statement,” a reporter said, and then asked, “what’s the reason for that discrepancy?”
“This is from a letter from the outside counsel and I’d direct you to them to answer that question,” Sanders said, before quickly calling upon another reporter.
Later, Sanders was asked if her statement from last August is “still operative.” She again refused to answer, saying, “once again this is a reference back to a letter from the president’s outside counsel, and therefore I can’t answer and I would direct you to them.”
“What was your basis for saying it in August then?” the reporter followed up.
“Once again, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth, and I would encourage you to reach out to the outside counsel,” she replied.
A third attempt to get Sanders to clarify was made later in the briefing.
“If you’re saying one thing from the podium — that it wasn’t dictated by the president — and his lawyers are saying something entirely different and contradict you, how are we supposed to know who to believe?” the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey asked. “How can we believe what you’re saying from the podium if his lawyers are saying it’s entirely inaccurate?”
“Once again, I can’t comment on a letter from the letter from the president’s outside counsel, and I’d direct you to them to answer it,” she said.
“But Sarah, the words are literally, you say ‘he did not dictate,’ the lawyers said he did — what is it?” Dawsey followed up.
But Sanders again wouldn’t budge.
“I’m not going to respond to a letter from the president’s outside counsel, we’ve purposely walled off, and I’d refer you to them for comment,” she said.
While Sanders refuses to explain the discrepancy between what she said then and what team Trump acknowledges to be the case now, one of Trump’s outside lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, made a case on Sunday that the flip-flop actually illustrates why Trump shouldn’t sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Our recollection keeps changing, or we’re not even asked a question and somebody makes an assumption,” Giuliani said during an interview on This Week.