On Wednesday, President Donald Trump told Reuters that, until the New York Times broke news of it on Saturday, he had not known about his eldest son’s June 2016 meeting with with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who had promised to provide the Trump campaign with incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
“No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” Trump said, asked if he knew about the meeting between the attorney and Donald Trump, Jr. (Adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner also attended the meeting, as did campaign chairman Paul Manafort.)
Shortly after that interview, Trump boarded Air Force One and took off for Paris, where he’s celebrating Bastille Day with French President Emmanuel Macron. On the flight there, he offered pool reporters remarks contradicting what he told Reuters. (Reporters initially thought their conversation with Trump was off the record, but the White House later released excerpts.)
Asked about the meeting, Trump repeated his son’s story about how the Russian lawyer used the promise of dirt on Hillary to finagle a meeting that she really intended to make about adoption policy.
“They talked about the adoption stuff, which was actually a big thing at the time, but nothing happened,” Trump said.
But he went on to indicate that he may have known about the meeting before last weekend after all: “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” he added.
According to the White House pool report, Trump was quick to point out that while he may have been told about the meeting, he didn’t know that it was supposed to be about dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s comments aboard Air Force One are not only at tension with what he said earlier Wednesday. They also directly contradict a statement Trump Jr. released on Sunday that said, “My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.”
During an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Tuesday, Trump Jr. didn’t directly answer a question about whether he told his father about the meeting, but said, “It was just such a nothing… There was nothing to tell.”
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The New York Times broke news about Trump’s meeting with the Russian lawyer on Saturday. On Tuesday, the Times reported that while Trump was flying back from a previous trip to Europe on the same day the story broke, he “signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last.”
The trickle of information culminated in Trump Jr.’s decision on Tuesday to release the chain of emails that set up the meeting. The emails indicate that the Trump campaign, at the very least, was eager to collude with Russia in an effort to bring down Clinton.
During a news conference with Macron on Thursday, Trump argued that his son’s meeting was no big deal.
“I think from a practical standpoint most people would’ve taken that meeting,” he continued. “It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent.”
Trump went on to insist that “zero happened” as a result of the June 9 meeting — WikiLeaks, which Trump’s own intelligence officials say conspired with Russia to interfere in the election, first announced it had “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication” on June 12— and accused the press of making “a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”
The president also blamed the Obama administration for his son’s troubles, arguing that if the Obama Justice Department hadn’t granted the Russian lawyer entry into the country so she could represent a Russian businessman federal court, the meeting wouldn’t have happened in the first place.