WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asserted that a meeting between President Donald Trump’s eldest son and several Russians last year was about adoption policy for Russian children, despite emails Donald Trump Jr. released showing that he expected to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton supplied by the Kremlin.
“There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption, the Magnitsky Act,” Spicer told reporters on Monday.
Donald Trump Jr. issued public statements about the meeting shortly after it was revealed by the New York Times in which he said he agreed to the meeting in hopes of receiving information to discredit Clinton and that he was told in the meeting the Russians had politically embarrassing evidence on her.
President Donald Trump also said on Twitter hours before Spicer spoke that Trump Jr. took the meeting expecting “info on an opponent.”
“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent,” Trump said on Twitter. “That’s politics!”
Other facts also indicate that the meeting was arranged on the premise of providing political information, rather than to discuss adoption or the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law imposing U.S. sanctions against certain Russian officials.
The meeting was attended by Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who served as a top campaign adviser. Before the meeting, Trump Jr. forwarded email correspondence about its planning to Manafort and Kushner with the subject line, “Re: Russia — Clinton — private and confidential.”
In the emails, a British publicist and friend of the younger Trump said the Russian government wanted to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton to help the Trump campaign. Donald Trump Jr. responded: “I love it especially later in the summer.”
On Saturday, quarterly Federal Election Commission disclosures revealed a $50,000 payment made by Trump’s campaign to the law firm now representing Trump Jr. in the Russia matter.
After the New York Times first reported the meeting, Trump Jr. said his sit-down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was about adoptions.
One day later, he issued a statement that during the meeting Veselnitskaya told him that she had information that “individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee.”
But, he added, “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” and “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
The younger Trump told said in an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity that after Veselnitskaya turned the discussion to adoptions, “that’s when we shut it down, which is, Wait a second, what does this have to do with what we were talking about?”
He later released the emails showing his true motivation for the meeting, and said in a Fox News interview that he would do things differently if given another opportunity. He has also explained his evolving statements on the matter, saying that he was responding to new questions.
“No inconsistency in statements,” Trump Jr. said on Twitter last week. “Meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q’s I simply provided more details.”
The president has repeatedly defended his eldest son and namesake, who he said “is being scorned by the Fake News Media.”
In a news conference in Paris last week, Trump said his son simply took a meeting that ended up not producing much valuable information or opposition research. Trump said he only learned of the meeting recently.
Members of Congress have called on those who attended the meeting to testify before the House and Senate committees investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Spicer referred questions on the matter to Trump’s independent counsel. He said on Monday that the president continues to have confidence in his attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who was the subject of a pair of damaging ProPublica reports recently.
ProPublica reported July 11 that Kasowitz wouldn’t seek a security clearance to handle the Russia case, which involves significant amounts of classified material. It quoted former employees of the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres who anonymously described the attorney as struggling with alcohol abuse. A spokesman for Kasowitz told ProPublica the lawyer is able to drink in moderation without a problem.
Kasowitz subsequently sent a series of profane and threatening emails to an unidentified man who wrote him about the report, only to have those messages turned over to ProPublica, which published them.
“I know Mr. Kasowitz has issued an apology on that matter,” Spicer said.