WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House admitted on Tuesday (Aug 1) that Donald Trump helped draft a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer – deepening the President’s entanglement in the saga over his team’s ties to Russia.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had “weighed in, offered suggestions, like any father would do.”
Trump’s personal intervention, first reported by The Washington Post, casts doubt on claims he knew nothing about a meeting during the 2016 campaign that is now central to a federal investigation.
It also paints a picture of a president acutely aware of the scandal – and determined to manage it down to a minute level.
Allies fear that such a level of involvement, if proven, could put the Republican billionaire leader in legal jeopardy.
Politically, it will only intensify allegations that the White House is trying to cover up connections with a foreign government accused of trying to tilt the November election in Trump’s favour.
“This was... unnecessary,” one presidential adviser told the Post on condition of anonymity.
“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the President is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow dismissed the report as “misinformed.”
E-mails show that Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then campaign manager Paul Manafort met Kremlin-connected officials in June 2016 in the hope of getting dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
On the other side of the table were government-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian real estate player Ike Kaveladze and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has denied long-standing allegations that he works for Russian intelligence.
A British middleman pitched the meeting as an opportunity for the Trump campaign to obtain “very high level and sensitive information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for the now president.
In a statement – allegedly dictated by Trump on Air Force One coming back from a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany – Don Jr said the meeting “primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children.”
Trump’s lawyers had claimed he was not involved in the meeting or its aftermath, and the Republican billionaire had rushed to his son’s defence, accusing the media of a political “witch hunt.”
One Republican congressman, Lee Zeldin of New York, told CNN: “I would be really interested in knowing what the President knew at that time.” .
TWITTER 'ONLY WAY TO GET TRUTH OUT'
Possible Trump-Russia collaboration is the subject of several Congressional investigations as well as a sweeping federal probe led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller.
The scandal has overshadowed Trump’s first six months in office and threatened to ensnare his whole administration in a legal thicket.
In recent weeks, the scandal has taken a back seat to White House chaos amid the departure of Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus, his short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci and press secretary Sean Spicer.
This latest drip-drip of Russia-related information has overshadowed what the White House was hoping would be a fresh start with new chief of staff John Kelly.
The four-star retired Marine general on Monday began his quest to impose order on an administration careening out of control.
On Tuesday, Trump focused on the American economy, a bright spot on the otherwise gloomy political landscape.
“Stock Market could hit all-time high (again) 22,000 today. Was 18,000 only 6 months ago on Election Day. Mainstream media seldom mentions!” he said on Twitter.
Later in the day, he participated in a White House event with small businesses, at which he reiterated his comments on Wall Street.
But just in case there were any illusions that Kelly could tame Trump’s Twitter venting, the president was at pains to dispel them.
“Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!” he tweeted.
During his meeting with small business leaders, Trump jokingly complained out loud that Kelly had not made journalists give him credit for a years-long economic recovery.
“I keep telling General Kelly, ‘General, come on, let’s go, you’re chief of staff’,” Trump said in a subtle dig.