When it comes to Russia, Donald Trump – and his son -can’t get their stories straight.
Consider the last day and a half.
On Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said that a 2016 meeting between himself and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin was primarily about “adoptions.” That came in response to a New York Times piece detailing the meeting between Trump, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
On Sunday, when the Times reported a second piece alleging that Trump Jr. had met with Veselnitskaya after receiving a promise that she possessed “damaging information” about Hillary Clinton, he changed his story.
“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,” Trump Jr. said in a statement. “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.”
Then there was this odd reversal from the President himself on another matter involving Russia.
On Sunday at 7:50 a.m., President Trump tweeted: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.”
On Sunday at 8:45 p.m., President Trump tweeted: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”
So. That’s a lot to process.
As of Monday morning, here’s what we know (I think):
1. At the behest of a friend he made from the Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Russia in 2013, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who promised him dirt on Clinton. He has said he didn’t know the name of the person prior to the meeting, but we now know that person was Veselnitskaya. He said he didn’t tell Manafort or Kushner anything about the meeting — other than to ask them to come.
2. Trump Jr. initially said the meeting was primarily about adoption when initially confronted about it by the Times on Saturday. He did not mention that it had anything to do with the 2016 election despite the fact that Veselnitskaya’s promise of negative information appears to have been the impetus for the meeting in the first place.
3. At the much-anticipated meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Trump confronted Putin about meddling in the election. Putin denied it. Reports differ about whether Trump accepted that denial or not (Russia says he did, the White House says he didn’t).
4. The two sides agreed to put the Russian campaign meddling (or not) in the past — by, in part, discussing the possibility of creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to make election hacking a thing of the past. After a huge amount of blowback to that proposal Sunday — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, tweeted: “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit'” — Trump changed his tune, insisting that he didn’t really think the “cyber security unit” would happen anyway.
Got all that?
The point here is simple: With each passing week, the story seems to change when it comes to Trump and Russia. And, in almost every instance, what we find is more smoke around those connections. We don’t have fire yet — as Trump like to remind people (and he’s right). But, man oh man, the smoke just keeps getting thicker.
Why, even if he didn’t know exactly who he was meeting with, did Don Jr. take the meeting — with the promise that he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton? (Remember that Trump Jr. knew this was someone who was a friend of a friend he had made in Russia — meaning that it doesn’t take much of a logical leap to think this person he was meeting with might be Russian.)
And does President Trump think it’s a good idea to form a cybersecurity task force with Russia? Or not? If he does support it, why did he walk away from it — or hedge on it — 12 hours after he seemed to suggest it was the successful result of his confrontation with Putin?
Like almost everything with Trump and Russia, there are more questions than answers. And, if past is prologue, Trump and his senior advisers won’t answer any of them.