A timeline of the shifting accounts of Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer
Donald Trump Jr. is facing scrutiny over news that he attended a meeting during the 2016 campaign with a Russian attorney who was purportedly acting on behalf of the Russian government as part of an attempt to aid his father’s campaign.
Trump Jr. also has been criticized for a series of shifting explanations for the meeting at Trump Tower.
Here’s a timeline of how the story of the Russian meeting became public, as well as an inventory of Trump Jr.’s explanations.
The New York Times was first to report that Trump Jr. had met during the campaign with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who the New York Times described as linked to the Kremlin.
That story prompted Trump Jr. to issue the following statement to the media:
"It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared (Kushner) and Paul (Manafort) to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.
"I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand."
The next day, the New York Times reported that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton in advance of the meeting.
Again, this prompted Trump Jr. to issue a statement to the media.
But as the New York Times noted in a subsequent story, Trump Jr.’s explanations for the meeting were not consistent.
The following day, Trump Jr. took to Twitter to downplay the significance of the meeting, saying: "Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen."
He also pushed back against the New York Times’ assertion that he’d given differing accounts of the meeting.
"No inconsistency in statements," he tweeted. "Meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q's I simply provided more details."
Taking a page from the playbook of his father, who’s described himself as a "counter-puncher," Trump Jr. turned from defense to offense, tweeting a story about Clinton and Ukraine with the headline: "Everybody Is Forgetting That Clinton Allies Did The Same Thing As Don Jr."
That evening, the New York Times published another story, reporting that Trump Jr. was told in an email before the meeting of an effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign.
Hours after that story was posted, the New York Times’ Adam Goldman, one of the authors of that report, tweeted: "Update: I am still reporting."
As the story gained momentum, the White House ramped up efforts to downplay the circumstances around the meeting, saying the meeting was basically standard operating procedure (political consultants we spoke with disagreed).
After the New York Times told Trump Jr. it was going to publish the contents of his emails he went into "damage-control mode," according to the New York Times, and posted the emails himself, along with another public statement, just before the New York Times published its story.
While Trump officials consistently denied they communicated with Russian government officials during the 2016 campaign, the emails released by Trump Jr.’s show that the meeting was predicated on the promise that a "Russian government attorney" would deliver damaging information to Trump Jr. about his father’s Democratic opponent.
Legal experts we spoke to said the meeting raised questions about whether U.S. federal election law was followed, and that the email exchange heightened concerns.
"The tweeted emails make things worse for Trump Jr.," said Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. "He looks now as if he attended the meeting with not only his eyes open but also to acquire information -- something of value -- in violation of federal law."
That evening Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News for an interview with Sean Hannity. Hannity, like Trump Jr. before, sought to draw parallels between the meeting with the Russian lawyer and a Clinton campaign connection to Ukraine (there are important distinctions).
At a press conference in Paris, President Trump sought to minimize the meeting’s significance, saying "nothing came of the meeting."
We don’t know, beyond the statements of Trump Jr. and others, what happened in the meeting or what information was shared. But as reports make clear, it certainly will be probed by lawmakers and law enforcement officials investigating possible connections between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
News broke that two additional people attended the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower.
Early reports identified one of the attendees as Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who says "he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence" but maintains he was never trained as a spy.
Akhmetshin told the Associated Press that Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney, brought with her to the meeting a document containing damaging information on Clinton:
"During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said."