Trump Jr. Met With Russian Lawyer With Promise Of Damaging Clinton Information
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And we begin this hour with another revelation in the ongoing storyline about whether anyone with the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. This new twist involves the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. He says he met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This was last summer. And Trump Jr. says the lawyer offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Also at this meeting were the president's then campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a White House senior adviser. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on the line. Good morning.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
KELLY: How do - what do we know about how this meeting came to pass?
KEITH: So according to the statement from Donald Trump Jr., he says that the meeting was arranged by an acquaintance he had from when the Trump Organization put on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia. He says that the meeting was arranged with an individual, who, he was told, might have information helpful to the campaign. That meeting happened in June of 2016. And as you said, Paul Manafort, who was the chairman of the campaign at the time, and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, joined.
Now, Donald Trump Jr. says that he didn't know before the meeting who it was with, but it turned out to be a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. In the meeting, he says that she offered these vague and ambiguous claims about Hillary Clinton but that he quickly realized that she had no meaningful information.
So then the conversation turned to U.S. sanctions against Russia and issues with adoption. And Trump Jr. says that that was clearly her true agenda. In his statement, he says he interrupted and advised her that his father was a private citizen, not an elected official, and couldn't help her. But he says the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes.
KELLY: Twenty to 30 minutes - OK, so what's the takeaway here? I mean, what's the significance in terms of what this could mean for President Trump and for his son?
KEITH: Well, a spokesman for the president's outside legal team says that the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting. The fact that this meeting exists does not prove collusion necessarily.
KEITH: But it does - it's just like another piece in this very big puzzle. And, you know, it's not clear that anything came out of this meeting. Donald Trump Jr. says that, you know, the conversation ended there. But, you know, previously, members of the Trump administration had said that there were no meetings with people connected to Russia before the - during the campaign. Now there clearly was a meeting.
KELLY: And clearly, this is the first time that Donald Trump Jr. has been swept up in some of these ongoing allegations. Now, all of this comes in the wake, of course, of President Trump having sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. We don't know exactly what they said in that meeting. There's no transcript. There have been differing accounts. But yesterday, President Trump gave his take on it. He was tweeting. What did we learn?
KEITH: Yeah, so he says - and I'm just going to go through some of the tweets here - that he strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election, that Putin vehemently denied it. And then the president says, I've already given my opinion. Now, of course, we know that that opinion is sort of mixed. He says, well, maybe Russia did it. Maybe they didn't do it. Maybe it was somebody else too.
KELLY: Nobody really knows, he says. Yep.
KEITH: Right, exactly. And then in a later statement on Twitter, he says, Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cybersecurity unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded and safe. This created something of an uproar among Republican senators and others who were concerned about the idea of the U.S. teaming up with a country that interfered in its election to prevent future hacking and election interference. There were a great many of the old line about fox-guarding-the-henhouse analogies that were used yesterday. But Secretary - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was on ABC's "This Week" and endorsed the cybersecurity unit idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")
STEVEN MNUCHIN: This is like any other strategic alliance, whether we're doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.
KEITH: Well, accomplishment or not, 13 hours later, President Trump tweeted again - contradicting his administration officials and seemingly himself. Here's what he said. Quote, "the fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't - but a ceasefire can, and did," exclamation point.
KELLY: Meanwhile, Tam, back at the ranch - by which I mean back in Washington, Congress is back. They've returned from the Fourth of July recess. And in a kind of "Groundhog Day" scenario, health care is back, once again, at the top of the agenda. When they left town, we didn't know where this bill was going to go. What's happened since?
KEITH: We still don't really know where it's going. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told me that they are still working. Discussions continue, both among Congressional - among Senate Republicans and with the Congressional Budget Office. And so I'm actually in Kentucky right now, which is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state, because last night Senator Bernie Sanders held a health care rally here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BERNIE SANDERS: The Republican plan only makes the situation worse.
SANDERS: Our job is to improve the Affordable Care Act, not destroy it.
KELLY: All right, well, set the stage for us here. Why is Bernie Sanders in Kentucky? And what kind of reaction were you hearing from folks there?
KEITH: Yeah, so why Kentucky? Well, because it's Senator Mitch McConnell's state. Also we were in northern Kentucky in a town called Covington, which is right by Cincinnati, Ohio. So he was also trying to reach the Republican senator from Ohio, just over the border. Bernie also went to West Virginia yesterday. And, you know, there were a lot of people there who said that they support Bernie Sanders, but also who have genuine concerns about the health care bill.
I asked people, why are you here? That was my first question. And to a person, they all said, because I'm really worried about the Republican health care bill. But they all gave different reasons about why they were personally concerned.
KELLY: OK, thanks, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, on the road for us today in Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.