What has been most damaging about the Don Jr. mess, besides the meeting itself, has been the ever-shifting, misleading explanations. I assumed, as I think most people did, that this was the work of an overwhelmed Don Jr. making bad judgment calls in the midst of an intense, high-stakes media storm. Not so. The White House and the president himself crafted the deceptive, ham-handed response. From the New York Times:
As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to the New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump’s son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
It’s a matter of dispute whether Don Jr. was on board with this approach or not:
Inside Mr. Trump’s team, the response to the developments has become a subject of intense dispute. Three people familiar with his son’s account said he pushed to offer a full explanation on Saturday when first contacted by The Times about the meeting, and said he agitated to be allowed to defend himself publicly. But three other people involved in the discussions offered a completely contrary version of events, insisting that the younger Mr. Trump adamantly resisted an expansive disclosure.
Regardless, that the response was the handiwork of the very top of the White House food chain is disturbing, and reminiscent of the initial, wholly misleading account of the Comey firing.