Evan Vucci / AP

The new story about Trump's inner circle meeting a Russian is damaging because of who was there, when it happened, what they were up to, and the fact that the explanation changed radically over the weekend.

Be smart: Intent will be a crucial consideration in whatever special counsel Bob Mueller comes up with. So the reason for this meeting, the changing story, and the foot-dragging on disclosure are all going to matter. It's why veteran Republicans operatives remain mystified that Trump's orbit is going the drip-drip route rather than disclosing all at once what's known about meetings with Russians.

On Saturday, N.Y. Times had disclosed that the Trump Tower meeting last June with "a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin" had been convened by Don Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, and included son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A day later, the bombshell: The meeting was not primarily about adoption policy, as Trump Jr. had suggested in a statement. Don Jr. had been "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton."

The NYT's Maggie Haberman pointed out on Twitter: "This meeting took place at a pivotal moment for Trump, winning Indiana but facing delegate slog prospect."

Under the for-history headline of "TRUMP TEAM MET RUSSIAN OFFERING DIRT ON CLINTON," The Times says: "The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help."

  • From Don Jr.'s statement: "[T]he woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
  • Just hours before the new story, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on "Fox News Sunday" that it was "a nothing meeting": "[I]t was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption."
  • Intrigue, tweeted by Axios' Jonathan Swan: "Sources close to Trump are discussing which 'advisers to the White House' [how The Times described sources] might want revenge against Don Jr."

Email du jour, from a top Republican: "[T]ranquilize the president so he does not tweet about it."

Go deeper

How "naked ballots" could upend mail-in voting in Pennsylvania

Trump signs in Olyphant, Penn. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered state officials last week to throw out mail-in ballots submitted without a required inner "secrecy" envelope in November's election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The state of play: The decision went under the radar alongside the simultaneous decision to extend the time that mail-in ballots could be counted, but Philadelphia's top elections official warned state legislators this week that throwing out so-called "naked ballots" could bring "electoral chaos" to the state and cause "tens of thousands of votes" to be thrown out — potentially tipping the presidential election.

Commission releases topics for first presidential debate

Moderator Chris Wallace. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has selected what topics he'll cover while moderating the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden next week.

What to watch: Topics for the Sept. 29 debate will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday. Each topic will receive 15 minutes of conversation and will be presented in no particular order.

Fed chair warns economy will feel the weight of expired stimulus

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jay Powell bump elbows before House hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that the expiration of Congress' coronavirus stimulus will weigh on the U.S. economy.

Why it matters: Powell warned that the effects of dried-up benefits are a looming risk to the economy, even if the consequences aren't yet visible.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!