Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged Sunday that he met with a Russian lawyer who had promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton in June 2016.
The news, which was first reported by the New York Times, represents the most direct suggestion to date of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and it is the first indication that someone from President Trump’s inner circle met with Russians during the campaign. Trump Jr. also brought then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and now-top White House adviser Jared Kushner to the meeting.
But the information isn’t just troubling because it suggests the Trump campaign sought out the help of Russians to win the presidency. It also contradicts a number of claims made by the White House, the campaign and Trump Jr. himself — claims made as recently as this weekend. For an administration and campaign that have repeatedly denied contact with Russians and had their denials blow up in their faces, it’s yet another dubious chapter.
Let’s recap all the times they suggested this kind of thing never happened.
1) Trump Jr. on Saturday: The meeting was about Russian adoption
When the Times first reported the meeting on Saturday, Trump Jr. said that it was about the issue of Russian adoptions and not the campaign.
“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” he said.
Upshot: This statement from Trump Jr. was highly misleading, at best, and it was contradicted just a day later. Clearly the pretext for the meeting was the campaign, and he pretty clearly sought to hide that fact.
2) Trump Jr. in March: No meetings “representing the campaign” with Russians
Trump Jr. told the Times in March that he never met with any Russians while working in a campaign capacity.
“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Upshot: We now learn that one meeting was, in fact, “set up” and that it was about the campaign.
3) President-elect Trump in January: No contact between Trump associates and Russia during campaign
Following a news conference in which Trump didn’t directly answer a question about whether there were contacts between his campaign or associates and Russia, Trump flatly denied that there were, according to two reporters who chased him down.
Upshot: We don’t know precisely the question and the answer that Trump gave after the news conference, but he was asked during the news conference, “Can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?” CNN’s Jim Acosta and ABC’s Cecilia Vega say he replied “no” when asked again later.
4) Hope Hicks: “No communication” with a foreign entity
The campaign spokeswoman offered a blanket denial on Nov. 11, shortly after Trump was elected and the Kremlin said Russian experts had met with his staff.
“It never happened,” Hicks said. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
Upshot: This denial was so broad that it has now been proven false on multiple occasions.
5) Kellyanne Conway in December: “Absolutely not” on contact with Russians trying to meddle
On CBS’s “Face the Nation”:
JOHN DICKERSON: Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?
CONWAY: Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous and it does undermine our democracy.
Upshot: The most charitable read here would be that Conway interpreted the question as being about hacking or other official government meddling. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, says she wasn’t working on behalf of the Kremlin. But she has ties to the Kremlin and has a history of pushing issues that are key to its agenda. And it’s difficult not to see what she did as a form of meddling or influencing the campaign.
6) Vice President Pence in January: “Of course not”
On “Fox News Sunday” on Jan. 15, when Pence passed along Michael Flynn’s faulty information about his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the campaign, Pence also denied any contact between the campaign and the Kremlin or Russian meddlers.
WALLACE: I’m asking a direct question: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
PENCE: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country. That’s why he won in a landslide election.
WALLACE: — if there were any contacts, sir, I’m just trying to get an answer.
PENCE: Yes. I — of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the — this is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency. The American people see right through it.
And here he was the same day on “Face the Nation”:
DICKERSON: Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?
MIKE PENCE: Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.
Upshot: The second denial is about Russian “meddling,” and the first one is about “contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had.” Again, the best explanation here for the Trump team would be that the Russian lawyer wasn’t trying to meddle and wasn’t working on behalf of the Kremlin. But the denial is pretty broad.
7) Spicer in February: Doesn’t change Trump’s January statement
White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked if Trump’s comments from after the January news conference still stood, and he didn’t amend them:
QUESTION: Back in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign — not even General Flynn — had any contact with the Russians before the election?
SPICER: My understanding is that what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period — well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did — he did speak with the ambassador.
QUESTION: I’m talking about during the campaign.
SPICER: I don’t have any — I — there’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.
8) Trump Jr. in July 2016: Suggestions that Russians tried to help Trump are “lies”
From July 24, 2016 on CNN’s “State of the Union”:
JAKE TAPPER: So, I don’t know if you were hearing earlier, but Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — I asked him about the DNC leak. And he suggested that experts are saying that Russians were behind both the leak — the hacking of the DNC emails and their release. He seemed to be suggesting that this is part of a plot to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Your response?
TRUMP JR.: Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You notice he won’t say, well, I say this. We hear experts. You know, here’s (INAUDIBLE) at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians. It’s disgusting. It’s so phony. I watched him bumble through the interview, I was able to hear it on audio a little bit. I mean, I can’t think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.
Upshot: The intelligence community, of course, later determined that Mook was right that the Russians hacked to help Trump. What’s notable here is that Trump Jr. vociferously denied the Russians were trying to help Trump — just a month after meeting with a Russian who promised damaging information on Clinton.