Peter Baker of the New York Times presents a timeline that invites the reader to view Donald Trump, Jr.’s emails and meeting with the Russian lawyer as connected with other events occurring in the same time frame. The conclusion Baker thinks can, but not necessarily should, be drawn is that, his recent denial notwithstanding, the senior Trump knew about his son’s impending meeting with the Russian lawyer and thought the meeting would yield incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Here are the key events Baker cites:
June 2, 2016: Hillary Clinton blasts Donald Trump for being soft on Putin.
June 3: Trump, Jr. receives an email in which Bob Goldstone offers to help provide “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate Hillary.” Trump, Jr. quickly responds with an expression of interest.
June 7: The meeting with the Russian lawyer is set for June 9. Later in the day (June 7) candidate Trump says: “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” He adds, “Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund — the Russians, the Saudis, the Chinese — all gave money to Bill and Hillary, and got favorable treatment in return.”
June 9: The meeting between Trump, Jr. (along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) and the Russian lawyer takes place. No incriminating information about Hillary is disclosed.
June 13: Candidate Trump does not give a speech about Hillary and the Russians.
I see three ways of interpreting this sequence of events. First, candidate Trump’s promise to deliver a speech about Clinton and Russia had nothing to do with the upcoming meeting between his son and the Russian — a meeting Trump says he didn’t know about.
Baker’s quotation of Trump’s June 7 comment puts me in mind of the “Clinton cash” theme Peter Schweizer had developed, a theme Trump was well aware of and had mentioned before. One can easily explain Trump’s June 7 promise to discuss Hillary’s Russia connection as triggered not by any knowledge of his son’s impending meeting, but by the shot Hillary took at him a few days before. One can easily conclude that he was planning to strike back with the “Clinton cash” material, not with information his son might transmit.
A weakness in this explanation is that Trump did not give his speech on Hillary and Russia. The White House says he switched speeches because of a mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida nightclub, but the real explanation might be that his son’s meeting with the lawyer yielded nothing.
My view is that Trump could easily have given a Hillary-Russia speech even without his son having learned anything from the Russian lawyer. For one thing, he could have used the “Clinton cash” material. For another, candidate Trump was never deterred from attacking by a paucity of facts.
The second interpretation of Baker’s timeline is that Trump’s promised speech was connected to knowledge of his son’s scheduled meeting with the Russia, and that Trump was lying when he recently denied knowing about the upcoming meeting. If one rejects the first interpretation, the second interpretation becomes highly plausible.
The third interpretation is that Trump’s promised speech was connected to knowledge of his son’s meeting, but that Trump wasn’t lying when, more than a year later, he denied knowing about that meeting. Instead, he didn’t remember anything about such a meeting. This interpretation requires giving Trump the benefit of considerable doubt. Given his sometimes strained relationship with the truth, I’m not sure he deserves that much benefit.
The first and second interpretations are the most plausible. If one believes that Trump, Jr. would have scheduled a meeting with the Russian lawyer without informing his father, then the first interpretation is more plausible than the second, in my view. Otherwise, the second interpretation should prevail.
I don’t know enough about the relationship between Trump and Trump, Jr. to have an opinion as to whether the son would have scheduled this meeting without telling the father.