During an off-camera, audio-free news briefing on Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed —despite all evidence to the contrary — that there’s no good reason to believe Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer was about anything other than adoption.
.@PressSec says “there was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe” that Don Jr. meeting wasn’t about adoption policy.
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) July 17, 2017
Audio released after the briefing ended indicates that Spicer’s exact quote was, “There was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion of adoption” during the meeting.
Spicer: There's nothing we know of that'd lead anyone to believe Trump Jr.'s meeting wasn't about adoption policy https://t.co/5OqNnWwtIc
— CNN (@CNN) July 17, 2017
Spicer’s comment embodies a talking point other Trump administration officials abandoned a week ago. They had no choice but to let it go after Trump Jr. released the correspondence leading up to the meeting last Tuesday. The emails indicate the Russian lawyer, through an intermediary, offered to “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the message continued. Within 20 minutes, Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” He forwarded the entire exchange to then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and current White House adviser Jared Kushner, and all three of them later attended the meeting.
When the New York Times first broke news of the meeting on July 8, Trump Jr. acknowledged it happened, but claimed the main topic of discussion was adoption policy. A day later, the Times reported that the meeting was actually scheduled after Trump Jr. was promised that the Kremlin-connected lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The emails Trump Jr. released prove that.
The subject line of the emails reads “Russia-Clinton-private and confidential,” and the thread doesn’t contain the word “adoption” a single time. At the very least, the emails and the fact that numerous campaign officials attended the meeting show that the Trump campaign was willing to collude with Russia to bring down Clinton.
Spicer’s comment is also at odds with a tweet President Donald Trump posted earlier Monday in which he acknowledged his eldest son took the meeting to obtain dirt on Clinton, but suggested it is par for the course in politics.
Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2017
While opposition research is indeed part of politics, meeting with an agent of an adversarial foreign power — during a campaign in which that foreign power goes on to interfere on your behalf — is not standard procedure. During his confirmation hearing last week, Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee for FBI director, advised that any campaign official who is contacted by a foreign agent about election-related matters should inform the FBI instead of meeting with them.
“Any threat or any effort to interfere in our election from any nation state or nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know,” he said.
In a tweet posted Saturday, Trump dismissed the scandal surrounding Trump Jr.’s emails and the meeting with the Russian lawyer as “the Russian hoax story.” That represented a departure from what Trump said during a news conference in Paris last Thursday, when he seemed to acknowledge the June 2016 meeting occurred, but blamed the Obama administration for letting the Russian lawyer into the country in the first place.