News of Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer tied to the Kremlin was broken by the New York Times last Saturday.
The slow drip of information since then has been another fascinating study in the failure of the Trump administration to be transparent and truthful.
It was a week of misleading statements, falsehoods and deflections that make a good public-relations strategist wince.
The meeting itself – where Trump Jr. entered expecting to receive damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – is troubling enough. It’s the first known case of potential collusion with Russians to influence the election, and it had a paper trail: e-mails between Trump Jr. and an intermediary setting up the meeting.
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Some analysts think the collusion line has been crossed. Others don’t. Special counsel Robert Mueller and two congressional intelligence committees get to figure it out.
But the continued release of details, including Friday’s reveal by The Associated Press that a Russian-American lobbyist was also at the meeting, shows a White House that won’t recognize that it’s better to get all the details out at once.
Trump defended his son, as you’d expect. “He’s a good boy (at 39).” Simply doing opposition research. Most people in Junior’s shoes would’ve taken that meeting.
Except it wasn’t opposition research. That’s when your campaign has go-getters who follow paper trails and old media reports to deliver potentially damaging information about a rival candidate. It’s not checking your inbox for an e-mail from someone with ties to a foreign adversary.
Besides that, only a fool – or extremely naïve campaign official – takes a meeting with a representative of an adversarial foreign government. The smart thing, as noted by Trump’s new nominee to head to the FBI, is to call the FBI and let the feds investigate.
But give Trump Jr., who revealed the e-mails setting up the meeting only after The New York Times had them, the benefit of the doubt. He was not skilled in the ways of campaign protocol and was overeager to help his father. Same can be said for Jared Kushner, the son-in-law who’s now a senior adviser and was also in the meeting.
But what about Paul Manafort, the campaign chair at the time and a veteran of four previous presidential campaigns? Didn’t he have to know what the three were getting into by meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya?
It apparently didn’t matter, and it’s the latest problem for an administration seemingly willing to fudge the truth and work it out later.
Kushner’s original paperwork for obtaining a security clearance to work in the White House listed no foreign contacts. The paperwork has been amended multiple times to include, the New York Times reported Thursday, more than 100 names of Russian contacts. From zero to 100 in six months.
President Trump said Thursday he heard “two or three days ago” about the meeting, and so far there’s nothing to indicate that’s untrue … even though the meeting was held in Trump Tower … with the president’s son and son-in-law.
Even with the week’s developments, the slow drip from the Trump faucet will continue. New information leaks and creates new bombshells. Presidential tweets will attempt to shift focus.
It’s become hard to imagine what Washington would be like without the Twitter rants and misdirection by the administration. Many who voted for Trump are OK with it. Others who voted for him hoped it would stop once became president. They’ve been disappointed.
News reports Friday revealed the White House was hiring Washington lawyer Ty Cobb (relative of the baseball Hall of Famer) to handle coordination of how the administration deals with the Russia investigations.
That’s encouraging. It’s a house that needs some order, for its own good and the American people’s.