In a reversal, the White House acknowledged Tuesday that President Donald Trump offered what it said was fatherly advice to his eldest son about a statement explaining a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer believed to be bringing Kremlin-supplied dirt on Hillary Clinton. However, the president’s top spokeswoman said the elder Trump did nothing wrong.
Trump’s team initially denied the president was personally involved in drafting the statement, but a Washington Post article published Monday evening — citing multiple sources — painted him as its primary author. Trump dictated the statement to Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, on Air Force One last month as he returned from a G-20 summit in Europe, according to the Post report.
One of the lawyers helping lead the president’s outside legal team, however, denied Trump played any role in crafting Trump Jr.’s statement.
“I do want to be clear — the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement,” Jay Sekulow told NBC News last month. “It came from Donald Trump Jr. … It was, in fact, from him and I believe it was his lawyer was in consultation.”
But less than 24 hours after the Post report was published, White House Press Secretary Huckabee Sarah Sanders contradicted Sekulow’s account.
The president “weighed in and offered suggestions as any father would, based on the information he had,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday. Trump has said he only learned of the meeting a short time before details were made public by media reports. So it remains unclear what information the president possessed, but that will likely be sought by Justice Department special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Sanders referred to the Trump Jr. statement, which he and his personal lawyers sent with edits back to Air Force One, as containing no inaccurate statements.
She described the parts of the Trump Jr. statement that the president had a hand in as “true.”
She then went on to blast the media, even dropping one of Trump’s favorite catchphrases: fake news.
“I think what the bigger question is: Everybody wants to try to make this some story about misleading. The only thing I’ve seen misleading is a year’s worth of stories that have been fueling a false narrative about this Russia collusion based on a phony scandal based on anonymous sources,” Sanders said.
“You guys are focused on a meeting that Don Jr. had of no consequence when the Democrats actually colluded with a foreign government,” she added. “And if you want to talk further about a relationship with Russia, look no further than the Clintons, as we’ve said time and time again.”
Former officials with Hillary Clinton’s campaign have denied accusations that any senior campaign staffers had contacts with individuals with ties to the Kremlin. Some Republican lawmakers want a second special counsel to look into the alleged Clinton-Russia ties.
Other highlights from Sanders’ daily press briefing:
- The Trump administration views it as important for Congress to raise the debt ceiling “as soon as possible,” Sanders said. She did not lay out the White House’s demands. Around the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that he met with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss the way forward on raising the borrowing limit. He did not outline a timeline for action, but it wasn’t on his agenda for action before the recess.
- On the timing of Trump signing the Russia-Iran-North Korea sanctions legislation passed last week, there is “nothing holding him back,” Sanders said, adding that “there’s a review process” inside the White House that is ongoing. She reiterated that Trump will sign the bill.
- “All options” remain on the table when it comes to combating North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms programs, Sanders said.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.