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"It was a mistake": Why Giuliani is changing Trump's story on the infamous Russia meeting

Why the June 2016 meeting between Don Jr., Jared, Manafort, and the Russians keeps haunting Trump.

by Alex Lubben
Jun 5 2018, 6:19pm

Rudy Giuliani now claims that the White House “made a mistake,” and that President Donald Trump did dictate a controversial statement about the meeting in Trump Tower between the Russians, his son Don Jr., and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“You think maybe somebody could have made a mistake?” Giuliani told CNN on Monday. “It was a mistake. I swear to God, it was a mistake."

The now-infamous June 2016 meeting, between senior Trump campaign officials, including Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer known for her Kremlin connections, came in the heat of the presidential campaign, and has been a thorn in the president’s side since it came to light in July of 2017.

What was discussed there has been a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russians — and the president’s role in subsequently covering up the purpose of the meeting is a key point, as it would indicate that Trump personally tried to suppress ties to Russia.

Trump’s representatives have said repeatedly that Trump himself had no role in crafting the statement, which said that the meeting was primarily about adoption-related issues rather than about gathering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But in a letter sent by the president’s lawyers to Mueller’s team in late January and brought to light by the New York Times a few days ago, Trump’s lawyers admitted that Trump did dictate a “short but accurate” statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

Here’s why the meeting continues to haunt Trump:

Was it about adoption or getting dirt on Hillary Clinton?

According to Trump’s statement, the June 9, 2016, meeting between Trump campaign officials, a publicist, a Russian lobbyist, and a Russian pop star and son of an oligarch, was “primarily” about adoption.

But Don Jr. was promised dirt on then-presidential rival Hillary Clinton at the meeting, which he showed to be true by tweeting out his emails with Rob Goldstone, a former tabloid journalist who worked at the time with a public relations firm in New York.

Goldstone claimed that the Russians with whom he offered to schedule a meeting had information that would “incriminate Hillary.”

Read: Meet the bizarre cast of characters in Trump Jr.'s Russia scandal

“This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone added in the email.

The Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, according to Don Jr., was more interested in convincing him that the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that allows the U.S. to place sanctions on Russians accused of violating human rights law, should be repealed than she was in sharing dirt on Hillary.

Why it matters

After the meeting took place, Don Jr. said the meeting was convened “primarily” to discuss adoption-related issues and the Magnitsky Act, and anything that Veselnitskaya was able to provide about the Democrats wasn’t useful.

“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton,” Don Jr. said at the time. “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.”

Read: 5 crazy things we learned from Don Jr.'s Senate testimony

Trump representatives, including Trump’s other lawyer, Jay Sekulow, repeatedly denied that the president was involved with the statement.

“That was written, no, that was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure with consultation with his lawyer. That wasn't written by the president,” Sekulow told CNN in July of 2017.

And then he said basically the same thing to ABC: “The statement that was released Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., I'm sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved in that."

"The president was not — did not — draft the response,” Sekulow told NBC, also in July of 2017.

So there were quite a few “mistakes.”

But in the letter from January, the legal team wrote that the president dictated a “short but accurate” statement, though the statement was misleading, as it obscured Don Jr.’s clear intention — as revealed in the emails Don Jr. himself made public — to get dirt on Clinton.

“You have received all of the notes, communications, and testimony indicating that the president dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr.,” the legal team’s letter stated.

Guiliani's strategy

This isn’t the first time Trump’s new lawyer (and former New York Mayor) Rudy Giuliani has contradicted his predecessors and the president himself. Trump’s old lawyers jumped ship in recent weeks, citing the president’s unwillingness to take their advice. Giuliani, however, seems determined to discredit the Russia investigation altogether, regardless of who he contradicts — even himself.

For example: Giuliani also contradicted Trump and his advisers in saying that Trump fired Comey over the Russia investigation. “He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation,” Giuliani said May 2 on Fox News. “He’s entitled to that.”

He's not keeping this strategy a secret:

“I'm not saying Mueller is illegitimate. I'm saying the basis on which he was appointed was illegitimate," Giuliani told CNN on May 27, clarifying that his role was largely about shaping public opinion on the investigation. “What we're doing here, it is the public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach."

Cover image: Donald Trump Jr., son of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pool via Bloomberg)