President Trump fielded a variety of questions from reporters on the White House lawn Friday morning, during which he broached the topic of his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a statement the younger Trump made to The New York Times about his meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign, which later turned out to be false.
Trump suggested that it didn’t matter if the statement — which he dictated — was true, because it was only a comment for a newspaper.
“It’s irrelevant! It’s a statement to The New York Times — the phony, failing New York Times,” he said. “That’s not a statement to a high tribunal of judges. That’s a statement to the phony New York Times. In fact, frankly, he shouldn’t even speak to The New York Times because they only write phony stories anyway!”
Trump Jr. first issued a statement to the Times last July after the outlet reported that he and other Trump campaign officials had met with with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, on June 9, 2016. At the time, Trump Jr. claimed that the meeting was held primarily to discuss “a program about the adoption of Russian children” following the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law sanctioning many wealthy Russian oligarchs. Russia banned U.S. parents from adopting Russian children in December 2012, in retaliation for those sanctions.
One day later, however, the Times published a second report detailing that the meeting had actually been held to discuss “damaging information” the Russians had on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. tried to preempt that report by tweeting out the original emails arranging the meeting, hoping to prove he had nothing to hide. These emails, however, only confirmed that the campaign had been eager to receive Russian assistance during the 2016 election, in order to take down Clinton.
A week after the reports were published, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, insisted on Meet The Press that the Times statement had come from Trump Jr., without any input from the president. However, the Washington Post reported two weeks later that the president had personally dictated the statement himself.
Trump’s lawyers downplayed the revelation and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued to defend the Times statement, glossing over the president’s role in the matter. “The statement that Don Jr. issued is true,” Sanders said during a press briefing. “There’s no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had.”
In September, Trump Jr. admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that, in direct contradiction his initial Times statement, he had, in fact, attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya with the express purpose of receiving damning information on Clinton.
This past April, it was revealed that Veselnitskaya is a Russian informant who has been “actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general” since 2013. President Trump responded to this news by inventing yet another explanation for the meeting, telling supporters at a campaign rally that Russian President Vladimir Putin must have felt that the Trump administration “was killing us,” and told Veselnitskaya to invent the claim that she was involved in the government “so that we can go and make their life in the United States even more chaotic.”
Earlier this month, the Times published a report about a January memo written by Trump’s legal team — including Sekulow — that explicitly stated “the President dictated a short but accurate response to The New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.” The memo was a direct contradiction to the team’s earlier statements that claimed the president had a “minimal” role in the process.
Sanders has since refused to clarify her own statements from last August, when she told reporters Trump “certainly didn’t dictate” the Times statement. During a press briefing June 4, Sanders was mum on the issue, insisting all questions needed to be directed to outside counsel.