There is a lot being written about this tweet from the president yesterday:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
Given what we’ve heard from Trump about the June 2016 meeting that was attended by Don Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and several Russians, most accounts are focusing on the fact that his previous statements are lies (the New York Times calls them “misleading”) and that the president just admitted to an intent to collude with the Russians.
While those are accurate conclusions to draw from the tweet, we can take it one step further than that. To do so, let’s remember what we’ve heard about this meeting previously from Trump and his staff. Early on in the administration, they claimed that no one in the campaign had met with any Russians. That was pretty quickly demonstrated to be a lie. Then they dismissed meetings with the Russians by people like Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Page as taking place with minor players. When the June 2016 meeting with the three most senior people in the Trump campaign was revealed, we heard two things: (1) it was about adoptions and (2) Trump Sr. didn’t know about it.
Confirming what we already knew about the meeting from the emails between Don Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the president has now admitted that the purpose of the meeting was “to get information on an opponent.” That makes the whole concocted story that it was about adoptions a bald-faced lie. According to Michael Cohen, we’ve also learned that Trump knew about the meeting ahead of time.
Given that history of lies, Steve Benen asks a good question:
The core question that’s tough to escape is entirely straightforward: why lie?
If the infamous Trump Tower meeting was, to use the president’s phrasing, “totally legal” and the sort of thing that happens “all the time,” why not tell the truth about what transpired from the beginning? If this is much ado about nothing, why launch a coordinated effort, involving multiple people acting over the course of several months, to deceive the public?
That takes us directly to claims by Trump that the meeting “went nowhere.” We have no basis for believing that statement other than claims from people who have lied at every turn. The only accounts we’ve heard about what transpired have come from the president, his surrogates, and Natalia Veselnitskaya—who is clearly a Russian agent.
When it comes to the Trump Tower meeting, we should keep two things in mind. The first is that, at this point, we know nothing about what was discussed. Anyone who suggests otherwise is taking the word of people who have lied about it consistently.
Secondly, the president’s lawyers have been reduced to arguing that it is not a crime for a presidential campaign to collude with Russia in order to get dirt on his opponent during a time when they were attempting to influence an election. Even if Trump is telling the truth (which would be a first) and nothing came of the meeting, they’ve set the bar at the question of whether or not it actually constituted a crime. I’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide that one, but we will have sunk pretty far down the rabbit hole if that is what it takes in order to decide that a president is unfit for office.