Photo Credit: Baynard Woods
At Tuesday’s press briefing, just a day after Anthony Scaramucci was fired from his role of White House Communications Director, that story already seemed distant. As Sarah Huckabee Sanders came out into the briefing room, everyone wanted to ask about two stories that had broken since the Mooch’s ignominious departure.
The Washington Post reported Monday that President Trump himself had dictated his son’s first, misleading statement that the discussion with a Russian lawyer—who we now know had contacted Don Jr. with the promise of handing over dirt on Hillary—had been about adoption.
“Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations.”
On July 7, the day before he crafted this misleading note that said the conversation was about adoption, was the secret meeting between Trump and Putin in which they discussed…adoption.
To get a sense of what the “adoption” business is really about, check out Bill Browder’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, in which he discusses the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, whose name was lent to the Magnitsky Act, which imposed the sanctions on Russia that Putin desperately wants to overturn. Russia's halt on U.S. adoptions of Russian children was intended as retaliation. The testimony is harrowing and should be seen as background for any discussion of adoption.
Anyway, all of this raises questions about the rationale behind Trump’s decision to overrule the lawyers who were saying that Don Jr. should immediately make available everything he knew about the meeting. Instead of following their advice, the story suggests, Trump himself seems to have taken the lead in misleading the press and the public.
But when asked about this, Sanders said everything in the statement was accurate—a statement that is, on its surface, flatly false—and that “the president weighed in as any father would.”
The second story, which NPR broke on Tuesday morning, detailed a lawsuit filed by Rod Wheeler, a private investigator and Fox commentator, who is suing Fox News, alleging that they worked directly with the president and “created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda,” by fabricating quotes attributed to Wheeler. The agenda: to distract from the idea that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
“The president has no knowledge of the story, and it is completely untrue that there is White House involvement in the story,” Sanders told the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush when he asked about it. When he followed up, asking if it bothered her that a White House Press Secretary had met with Fox and a rich donor who was pushing the story, she said she was not bothered at all—as if this is just how things work.
“I don’t always know the nature of the story you’re coming to talk to me about,” she said, ignoring the part where quotes were allegedly changed and fabricated at the direction of the president itself.
This is no surprise. Sanders, it turns out, is more intransigent than Sean Spicer. At one point, as she tried to detail the Russian collusion of the Clinton campaign that the press should look into, there was a small uproar. I could hear Andrew Feinberg, a reporter who quit Sputnik, the Russian propaganda outlet, a couple months ago yell out, “But you won!”
Everything will get worse.