If they truly have nothing to hide, President Donald Trump, his family and his top associates have done a less than stellar job of establishing that.
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The latest admission by Donald Trump Jr. is particularly startling -- and especially problematic for the official line that the Trump campaign did not coordinate with the Russians. Now, for the first time, a top campaign official -- the president’s own son, in this case -- has conceded meeting with a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, with the specific expectation that now-President Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be discussed.
That knocks down a string of strident denials from President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a range of officials both inside and outside government.
Donald Trump Jr.’s previous statement, denying any campaign-related meeting with Russian nationals, is just one among many representations that now appear to be utterly false.
“Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he told The New York Times in March. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Donald Trump Jr. now joins Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner on a list of Trump campaign officials who had meetings with Russians during the campaign. That’s all fodder for the special counsel and congressional committees looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
But even if that is never proven -- and it still hasn’t been -- there’s the matter of White House credibility to consider.
In January, at his first news conference as president-elect, President Trump said no one from his team had contacts with Russia during the campaign: “Not at all,” he said. That same month, Pence made a similar denial: “Of course not,” he said.
Instead of disclosing information, seeking transparency or striving for frankness, the White House team has fueled suspicion by obfuscating facts, mincing words and dodging questions.
Even as late as this past weekend, when confronted with news of the Donald Trump Jr. meeting, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called it a “nothing meeting” that was focused on foreign adoptions. Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr.’s own statement made clear it was a meeting set up to discuss damaging information about Clinton.
When members of the White House press team have been cornered, they have tended to change the scope of what counts as wrongdoing. Now that the long-denied meetings are established, the official line – as offered by White House again today – is that there’s been no evidence of collusion to emerge.
“Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “Our position is no one in the Trump campaign colluded to influence the election.”
That may be true, and there’s little evidence so far that Trump’s base care much about the revelations. But with Russia policy continuing to move, there’s less reason for lawmakers and the public to cut the Trump team the benefit of any doubts.