Aug 6, 2018

A historic Trump tell-all

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The President of the United States admitted, on the record, that he misled the American people about the infamous Russia meeting in Trump Tower.

The big picture: It’s one of the most striking public reversals in modern presidential history, even though he made a similar point before, and even though it was done casually via an early morning tweet. It involves Russia, Air Force One, a presidential son, shady operatives, allegations of collusion and a federal probe — all in one. 

Trump tweeted: "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!"

  • This is the same president who dictated a statement to the media saying the meeting was about primarily about the adoption of Russian children, not campaign dirt offered by shady Russians with connections to Putin.
  • Why it matters: It’s a striking acknowledgment about a central moment in an international debate over international collusion — and a central moment being scrubbed for illegalities by special counsel Bob Mueller.

Trump implicitly made the same acknowledgment over a year ago, during a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron:

  • "I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.  It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent."
  • "I’ve had many people — I have only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up — 'Oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or, frankly, Hillary.' That’s very standard in politics."
  • "Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information."

But the context is new, with Mueller's probe — then just ramping up — clearly focused on that meeting and the statement that followed:

  • Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to President Obama who's now a law professor at NYU, said the new tweet weakens an argument for Trump's lawyers "that he shouldn’t have to interview with Mueller because he doesn’t know anything."
  • Bauer added: "He said something like this before. But one could read into this tweet ... that the meeting was entirely about opposition research, and that is definitely a change."
  • "That will certainly get the prosecutors’ attention. Why the course of misrepresentations, if he doesn’t have something to hide?"
  • Michael Barbaro, host of the N.Y. Times podcast "The Daily," pointed out on Twitter: "One of the strangest things about our free-wheeling Tweet presidency is that Trump routinely admits/acknowledges things, in writing, that might require hard-fought testimony from other presidents."

Be smart: Trump insiders believe the president will wind up giving an interview to Mueller.

  • Trump wants to, he thinks he can make his own best case, and no one around him can restrain him.
  • Said one associate: "He just can't help himself."

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