President Trump hates leaks. He hired Anthony Scaramucci 10 days ago to very publicly root them out, and he has even attacked his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for not investigating them aggressively enough.
But oftentimes with Trump, a leak isn't just a leak; it's an effort to save him from himself.
Such is the case with The Washington Post's big scoop Monday night that Trump personally dictated the highly misleading initial statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016. Anonymous White House advisers said they had settled on a plan to be transparent about the meeting, only to have the president come in at the 11th hour and decide to try and withhold the whole truth. The result, at Trump's personal direction, was a statement that claimed the meeting was about adoption, when in fact the stated purpose of it was opposition research -- supposedly from the Russian government -- about Hillary Clinton.
President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
[White House director of strategic communications Hope] Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, [Jared] Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.
The discussions among the president’s advisers consumed much of the day, and they continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.
But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.
It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.
The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.
And now look at these comments from anonymous advisers:
“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”
Trump, advisers say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.
“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”
Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a cover-up. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.