Spicer repeats debunked line about reason for Trump Jr.-Russia meeting

PHOTO: White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to members of the media in the Brady Briefing room of the White House in Washington, July 17, 2017.PlayPablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
WATCH Sean Spicer returns to White House press briefing after 3-week absence

White House press secretary Sean Spicer held a briefing for the first time in weeks, off camera, in which he appeared to mischaracterize the motivation for Donald Trump Jr.'s controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign.

Since news of that June 9, 2016, meeting broke last week, Trump Jr. has released multiple statements about the meeting and published emails that showed the planning that went into the meeting. In the emails and as repeated in his statements, it is clear that the reason went to the meeting — along with Donald Trump Sr.'s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and then-campaign adviser Jared Kushner — was in the hope of obtaining damaging information about his father's then-opponent Hillary Clinton.

Spicer's statement today, however, did not reflect that.

"There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act," Spicer said, "but I would refer you back to counsel on that one."

In the first statement that Donald Trump Jr. released about the meeting, on July 8, he described it as a "short introductory meeting ... about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago." He added details in a statement released on July 9, however, noting that he was asked to have the meeting "with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign." The statement went on to describe how the Russian lawyer "changed subjects" and her "true agenda" was to talk about adoption policy.

It was Spicer's first White House press briefing since June 26. He ceded the task to principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the interim.

Asked on June 20 about the rumors surrounding his job, Spicer responded, "I'm right here."

"It's no secret we've had a couple vacancies, including our communications director is gone for a while," Spicer added. "We've been seeking input from individuals as far as ideas that they have. We've been meeting with potential people that may be of service to this administration. I don't think that should come as any surprise. But we're always looking for ways to do a better job of articulating the president's message and his agenda, and we'll continue to have those discussions internally."

Today's briefing was held off camera, continuing the White House's practice throughout July. The last on-camera press briefing was on June 29.

Sanders was asked about the choice to limit the public's viewing of the press conference last week.

"We're always looking at different approaches and different ways to communicate the president's message and talk about the agenda," she said. "This is one of the many ways we choose to do that."