TrumpWatch, Day 178: Trump & Co. Scramble for an Explanation of Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting

Donald Trump leaves US Women's Open at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey, July 15, 2017 (AFP/Getty)

Trump camp tries new diversions but only gets into further trouble

Developments on Day 178 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Lawyer Blames Secret Service for Russia Meeting in Trump Tower

Donald Trump’s camp scrambles for a new explanation of the June 2016 meeting between senior members — son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort — and Kremlin-linked envoys.

Trump appeared to back off the case on Saturday as he spent the weekend at the US Women’s Open at his golf course in New Jersey, only briefly alluding to the “Russian hoax” in one of his tweets.

But on Sunday morning, he was back on the Twitter offensive, trying to divert attention to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — the subject of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, with the envoy promising material to damage her campaign:

Trump then praised a former advisor, Michael Caputo, for asserting that there was “no Russian collusion in our winning campaign” — even though Caputo said he believed the Russians had interfered in the US election — before targeting journalists:

Meanwhile Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow offered the most striking assertion on Sunday morning political talk shows, but may only have caused further trouble for the Trump team.

Sekulow tried to invoke Trump’s security detail to establish that there was nothing of consequence about the Trump Tower meeting:

Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The President had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.

The Secret Service, in a rare public response, noted that it would not have vetted the participants of the meeting because Trump’s eldest son was not under their protection: “Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”

The explanation raised the question of whether Sekulow had inadvertently put Trump Sr. — who, as a Presidential candidate, was under the Secret Service’s watch — close to the meeting. Observers noted that records show the candidate, whose offices are near those of his son, was in Trump on the day of the meeting.

Trump Sr. has insisted that he knew nothing of the encounter until The New York Times offered the first revelation on July 8. Sekulow repeated that line on Sunday, “The President was not engaged in this, was not aware of it.”

However, a series of events at the time and subsequently have raised questions about that explanation. Within hours of his son’s confirmation on June 7, 2016, of the appointment with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Trump promised that he would soon hold a press conference with damaging information about Clinton. By the end of July, he was inviting Russia to hack the computers of Clinton, following the first reports that Moscow had taken information from the Democratic National Committee.

Three weeks ago Trump officials began engaging lawyers after Kushner and Manafort belatedly filed required documents listing the meeting. Hours after his staff were contacted by CNN, Trump Jr. also retained legal representation.

Trump Jr. and the White House have offered a series of shifting explanations with each new revelation. Even after the release of Trump Jr.’s e-mail corresponding with a British intermediary only confirmed that the candidate’s son welcomed the anti-Clinton material, subsequent disclosures have established that Veselnitskaya was accompanied by two other representatives: Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and reportedly a representative of Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire who has been a business associate of both Donald Trump Sr. and Donald Trump Jr.

Kushner: I Didn’t Read the E-Mails

Jared Kushner is trying another line of defense — ignorance, according to “a source familiar with the situation”.

The source said Kushner claims that he did not scan to the bottom of the email thread — into which he was copied — by Donald Trump Jr. and British intermediary Rob Goldstone, missing the part about “Russia and its government” favoring Trump Sr.’s candidacy with its willingness to supply anti-Clinton material.

The subject line at the top of the e-mail thread is “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential”.

Kushner has also said he was in the meeting for only 10 minutes.

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