Over the weekend, the world learned that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and a key campaign surrogate, met one year ago with a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties who said she had compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign manager, as well as Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current senior White House adviser, also reportedly attended.
Trump Jr. said in a statement on Sunday that he cut short the meeting when it became clear that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not seem to have information interesting enough to take up more of the senior campaign aides’ time.
Whatever comes to light about the substance of the meeting itself, the fact that it took place at all contradicts a year of denials and obfuscations from Trump’s orbit that all served to make clear that no Trump associate, much less his campaign manager, his son, and his son-in-law, had been in contact with Russian entities.
Here is a timeline of all those denials:
June 9, 2016
Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian national at Trump Tower to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to the New York Times.
July 24, 2016
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, appearing on ABC’s This Week, is asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether there are any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia or its president. “No, there are not,” he said. “That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”
July 24, 2016
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump Jr. about Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook’s accusation of Russian meddling in the DNC hacks. Trump Jr. responded:
Well it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. They’ll say anything to be able to win this. This is time and time again, lie after lie, you notice he won’t say, ‘well I say this’ — ‘we hear experts’, his housecat at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians. It’s disgusting, it’s so phony… I can’t think of bigger lies…
He later said he wanted his father to be president because “it’s not going to be about divisive politics, emails, accusing people of working with the Russian government.”
July 27, 2016
“I can tell you I think if I came up with that they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s ridiculous,’” Trump told a Miami-based CBS affiliate when asked about the idea that Russians were trying to help him get elected. “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”
October 24, 2016
Trump told a rally in Florida that he had “nothing to do with Russia, folks. I’ll give you a written statement.”
November 11, 2016
In a statement responding to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s interview with Interfax that “there were contacts” with Trump’s team, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
December 18, 2016
Trump’s final campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, stated with categorical certitude that no one involved with the Trump campaign had any contact with Russians trying to influence the election.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. We are not going to get any insight into the president-elect’s thinking here, but let me try this. Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.
January 15, 2017
ABC’s John Dickerson asked then Vice President-elect Mike Pence, “Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the elections?”
“Well of course not,” Pence replied. “I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.
FLASHBACK: Mike Pence January 2017.
Q: Did any Trump campaign member have contact with the Russians?
Pence: "Of course not." pic.twitter.com/uSgQMkpydv
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 9, 2017
January 15, 2017
Pence also denied there had been any contact between Trump associates and anyone associated with the Kremlin, and questioned why such contacts would take place, in an interview on Fox News.
WALLACE: I’m asking a direct question: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
PENCE: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country. That’s why he won in a landslide election.
WALLACE: — if there were any contacts, sir, I’m just trying to get an answer.
PENCE: Yes. I — of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the — this is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency. The American people see right through it.
February 7, 2017
Trump tweeted that he had no deals in Russia.
I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy – yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2017
Feb. 14, 2017
ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer whether he could “say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?”
Spicer replied: “My understanding is that what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period — well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did speak with the ambassador…” Karl, following up, reiterated to clarify that the question was about “during the campaign.”
Spicer said, “I don’t have any … there’s nothing that would conclude me … that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.”
February 16, 2017
Trump again calls allegations of Russian collusion and election interference “fake news.”
The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2017
Feb. 19, 2017
Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, gave a blanket “no” when asked by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday whether the Trump team had any connections with Moscow.
Priebus went on later in the interview to add: “Let me give you an example. First of all, The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this — that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.”
Feb. 20, 2017
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeated the denial during a press briefing that the Trump campaign had no contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. “This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”
February 24, 2017
Spicer was asked at another press conference about how the White House could better explain whether “the President has an improper relationship with Russia?”
Spicer replied: “Well, again, there are no connections to find out about. That’s the problem. I think, A, he’s answered it forcefully. You can’t disprove something that doesn’t exist. He’s talked about the fact how many times he’s talked to Putin. He has no interests in Russia. He has no — there’s only so many times he can deny something that doesn’t exist.”
February 26, 2017
Trump again calls allegations of Russian collusion and election interference “fake news.”
Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
February 27, 2017
Spicer was asked in a press conference, “Can you not categorically deny there were no contacts between the Russians and anybody on the campaign?”
He began his answer by saying, “I can’t deny — I can’t — I guess my question is…”
The reporter clarified that “That’s what the investigation would look at.”
Spicer then attempted to reference other investigations to argue that there were no newsworthy connections between the Russians and Trump’s team:
Right. And I guess my point is, is that you’ve had the intelligence community look at Russia’s involvement in the election. You had the House and Senate both do the same. And so what I’m trying to ascertain is that at what point — how many people have to say that there’s nothing there before you realize there’s nothing there? I can’t say unequivocally — all I’m saying is, the people who have done the investigating about Russia overall and its activities in the United States, specifically now with respect to our election, haven’t provided anything that leads me to believe or should lead you to believe — and I continue to see reports coming from — there were media sources saying when they checked in with law enforcement, or intelligence community sources, there’s nothing more than has been previously reported over and over again. So, at some point, you do have to ask yourself, what are you actually looking for? How many times do you have to come to the same conclusion before you take the answer?
“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” Trump Jr. said in a March interview, according to the New York Times. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
May 8, 2017
Trump called the collusion story “a total hoax.”
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
May 11, 2017
Trump asserted he had “nothing to do with Russia” during his famous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.
“I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant — which I owned for quite a while — I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump said.
He also explained his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey came about “When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
July 8, 2017
When the news that a meeting had in fact taken place was about to become public, Trump Jr. first said the topic was only about the issue of adoption rules.
“We primarily discussed 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 it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” Trump Jr. said in a statement before the Times story about the Trump team meeting with Kremlin lawyers was published.
July 9, 2017
Trump Jr. provided a much longer statement explaining what the meeting was actually about — campaign research instead of policy questions regarding international adoption — after the New York Times broke news about the meeting’s true purpose.
I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.
July 10, 2017
Trump Jr. then tried to minimize the importance of the meeting, implying that it was simply a chance to hear information about an opponent:
Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen. https://t.co/ccUjL1KDEa
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 10, 2017
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect a correction to one of the dates on the timeline. The initial meeting at Trump Tower occurred on June 9, 2016, not July 9, 2016.