The House Intelligence Committee grilled Donald Trump Jr. for some seven hours Wednesday about his Russia contacts during the 2016 campaign. During the classified hearing, President Trump’s eldest son was asked about his now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer where Trump Jr. was expecting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians.
Trump Jr. was also asked about his interactions with the president following the meeting and, specifically, in crafting his response in July to the imminent New York Times story that was set to expose the suspect meeting. When asked about these discussions, however, Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege and refused to respond.
To be clear, neither Trump is a lawyer. Trump Jr., however, asserted attorney-client privilege for the father-son conversation based on the fact, he says, there was a lawyer in the room at the time, according to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” Schiff said after the hearing. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.”
The Trump Tower meeting itself is clearly important in the overall investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but the aftermath of the meeting that the 38-year-old refused to discuss could also be a game-changer. If Trump Jr., for instance, told his father about the meeting if would mean that candidate-Trump himself was aware as far back as June 2016 of Russian efforts to damage Hillary Clinton and his campaign’s effort to solicit information that might do the same. “Trump Jr. said he didn’t tell the president about the meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians when it happened,” according to the Associated Press.
But Trump Jr. did communicate about the meeting with President Trump at some point, at the very latest, after Times article dropped. The nature of these discussions that Trump Jr. refused to discuss is particularly important because of President Trump’s reported input on drafting his son’s statement in response to the story. Trump Jr. told the House committee that he exchanged text messages with now-White House communications director Hope Hicks about the meeting and how to respond. Hicks and President Trump were aboard Air Force One at the time returning from the G-20 summit in Germany and the Washington Post reported two weeks after the fact that President Trump was directly involved in crafting Trump Jr.’s initial, false statement.
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” The claims were later shown to be misleading…
Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times.
The circumstances around the statement and the intimate involvement of President Trump are legally perilous. While lying to the press is not against the law, if the president can be shown to have knowingly crafted a false statement it would speak to his intent in lying about the meeting which would help Mueller’s team lay the groundwork for an obstruction charge.