Donald Trump dictated a false statement by his son Donald Jr. about a June 2016 meeting between high-level Trump advisors and three Kremlin-linked envoys, “according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations”.

The story of the meeting — involving Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign Paul Manafort — with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya broke on June 8, as Trump Sr. and staff were returning from the G20 summit in Germany.

Trump Jr. had arranged the encounter with intermediaries for Trump associate and Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov to discuss a Russian offer of material damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Advisors recommended that Trump Jr. put out a truthful statement to get ahead of the story.

However, aboard Air Force One, Trump Sr. personally dictated a misleading statement in his son’s name. It said Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and maintained that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time”.

The attempted cover-up was an indirect reference to Vladimir Putin’s retaliation against sanctions passed by the US Congress in 2012 — the Magnitsky Act — over Russia’s human rights abuses. Putin directed that American parents could no longer adopt Russian children.

However, further revelations by The New York Times exposed the real subject of the meeting, with Trump Jr.’s e-mail exchange with Agalarov’s British intermediary confirming the anti-Clinton material as the main topic. Other outlets confirmed that Veselnitskaya was accompanied by Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Agalarov’s representative Irakly Kaveladze, who had been investigated in US authorities in 2000 for money laundering.

A Trump Sr. advisor said of the President’s dictation of his son’s statement:

This was…unnecessary. 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.

Another advisor said further trouble may be ahead: “[Trump Sr.] refuses to sit still. He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

Advisors said the problem is compounded because Trump Sr. believes he is innocent and therefore not at any legal risk over a cover-up.

An attorney for Trump Sr., Jay Sekulow, said of the revelations about the dictation of the statement: “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.”