Today is the first time in American political history that a sitting U.S. president admits that his party sought assistance from foreign power to win the 2016 presidential election.
On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted confirmation that his son, Donald Trump Jr., had met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in 2016 “to get information” on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr., along with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, took the meeting because they believed Veselnitskaya had “dirt” on Clinton.
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
When Trump’s team realized that Veselnitskaya did not have actual information on Clinton, they said they left the meeting early. Shortly thereafter, Trump himself personally dictated a misleading statement about the meeting, claiming that it was primarily about “adoptions.”
Over a year after that statement, Trump has finally admitted what has long been reported: that the purpose of the meeting was not about “adoptions,” but was about, rather, obtaining “dirt” on Clinton from Russia.
It represents the first time an American president has admitted that his campaign accepted offers of help from those connected to the Kremlin. All other offers throughout U.S. history — in 1960, in 1968, in 1984 — had been declined. It also comes as Manafort enters his second week on trial for failing to report millions of dollars in income from his foreign lobbying efforts.
Trump’s tweet appeared to be a response to a Saturday story in the Washington Post, which detailed Trump’s worries about Trump Jr.’s legal jeopardy. As the Post wrote:
Trump has confided to friends and advisers that he is worried the [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller probe could destroy the lives of what he calls “innocent and decent people” — namely Trump Jr., who is under scrutiny by Mueller for his role organizing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. As one adviser described the president’s thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal jeopardy.
Now that Trump has admitted that the original statement — that the Trump Tower meeting was about getting information on Clinton, not about “adoptions” — the biggest question remaining is whether Trump had foreknowledge of the meeting. If so, it would be the first time in American history not simply that a presidential campaign turned to the Kremlin for help, but that the candidate himself signed off on it.
Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen has alleged that Trump knew about the meeting in advance. The president has denied the claim.