Trump and Putin at G20 in Hamburg
Credit: Алексей М/Flickr

When the New York Times initially reported the story of Donald Trump having a second unplanned meeting on July 7th with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, they also reported that the next day, on the return trip on Air Force One, a statement was drafted for Donald Trump Jr. so he could respond to questions about an undisclosed meeting he had organized between himself, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer.

Here’s how that early reporting looked:

The evening after his two meetings with Mr. Putin — the first lasting 135 minutes and the second an hour — Mr. Trump returned to Washington. On the Air Force One flight back, his top advisers helped draft a statement about a meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. attended last year with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

The statement said that the meeting was primarily about the Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans. Sometime later, on July 19th, the president explained in an interview with the New York Times what he had talked about with Putin during his unscheduled meeting at the G20 dinner.

“We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting.”

In this time period, Trump and his lawyers and surrogates denied that Donald Trump had been aware that the story about Donald Jr. was coming and only learned about it when everyone else did after the story broke in the New York Times. They also denied (necessarily) that Trump had any role in crafting the statement on Air Force One.

There turned out to be quite a few problems with this story.

First, on July 13th, Michael Isikoff reported for Yahoo News that “President Trump’s legal team was informed more than three weeks ago about the email chain arranging a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer.”

More than three weeks before July 13th, places White House awareness of the story back around June 20th or so. So, first we’re asked to believe that Trump’s lawyers did not make him aware that his son and son-in-law were in some legal jeopardy and that the collusion story was about to get a big boost. That’s not credible.

Second, this means that Trump knew the story was going to break before he talked to Putin, which means that it’s no small coincidence that they talked about adoptions and then adoptions became the cover story.

Third, it’s now clear that Trump not only participated in the drafting of the statement for his son, but he actually overruled the legal advice he had available on Air Force One and dictated the misleading adoption story, an attempt at a coverup.

Fourth, the same reporting shows that the Trump Jr. statement was a topic of discussion among Trump’s advisors “on the sidelines” of the G20 summit, meaning that they were debating it before Trump had a second unscheduled hour long chat with Putin at the last night’s dinner.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

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.”

As these facts have been disclosed and made public, the administration’s story has changed. They now admit that Trump played a part in the drafting of the statement but they insist that he didn’t “dictate” it. Supposedly, this is all okay because Trump was just showing a fatherly concern for his son.

If I tried to make a list of all the lies the administration has told in this matter, I’m not sure I could capture them all.

Instead, I’ll just give a little timeline. Sometime around June 20th, the president learned that the media was aware of a meeting his son had organized at Trump Tower with Kremlin-affiliated Russians. At that point, he presumably asked for all relevant information about the meeting and tasked people with organizing a response. While he was in Germany at the G20 meeting, he and his advisers learned that the story was about to break. They strategized about what they could use as a defense. The president spontaneously joined Putin at the July 7th dinner with no American interpreter present and discussed the Russian adoption cover story with him. On July 8th, on Air Force One, he drafted or “dictated” the Russian adoption cover story over the protests of his legal team. After the story broke, Trump insisted that he had no prior knowledge of the meeting. He and his lawyers and surrogates insisted he had no role in drafting the statement.

What Trump didn’t count on was that the New York Times would obtain actual copies of emails detailing that the meeting was pitched to Donald Trump Jr. by assets of the Kremlin as an opportunity for the Kremlin to help Trump get elected. This blew up the adoption cover story that he and Putin had agreed to at the G20 dinner.

The only part of this that isn’t already proven is my surmise that Putin was a partner in the cover story. But I can’t see it any other way.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at