The Washington Post is reporting that President Donald Trump personally dictated the misleading statement issued by Donald Trump Jr. about his meeting with a Russian leader — a meeting that was expressly set up to received damaging information from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. The report that the President became personally involved in the statement — which inaccurately portrayed the meeting — is yet another example of an operation that has stumbled through scandal after scandal. Where most Administrations would have actively insulated the President from any role in the statement, Trump directed events and dictated the four-line statement that would be issued by his son.
The detailed account of the Post reaffirmed the image of the Administration as a amateurish, but it does indicate that some aides want to tell the full truth and get ahead of the scandal. They were overruled reportedly by the President and some found out only with the release of the statement.
It is difficult to describe how ill-advised such an action was for the President. There was a Special Counsel in the field looking into any obstruction or coverup. The President was accused of pressuring members of his government to scuttle the investigation. The obvious move was to insulate the President from any direct move. This was not only for his benefit but the benefit of Donald Jr. Having the President involved in the drafting of any statement — let alone a misleading statement — deepened the controversy and fueled the suspicion of a coordinated coverup centered in the White House.
The staff clearly already knew that Donald Jr. took the meeting with the intention of colluding with the Russians. They also knew that the truth would inevitably come out. They were working on the correct response — full and early disclosure on their own time — when the President took over the response on the flight home on Air Force One. The statement said that Donald Jr. and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” That misleading statement would deepen and extend the controversy.
The issuing of a misleading statement is not a crime in itself or half of Washington would be serving time. However, it can be evidence of an effort to cover up. More importantly, it moves the center of gravity of the controversy not just into the White House but around the President himself. He is shown directing events and crafting misleading statements. That gives the Special Counsel even more justification to focus on the White House as part of his mandate to look into Russian meddling into the election. It was the worst possible move among an array of obviously superior options.
The story also shows that the architect of these events remains the President himself. Adding Gen. Kelly as Chief of Staff is a solid move toward regaining control of events at the White House, but the problems will continue unless the President himself shows greater restraint at such moments.