One of the most important events in the Trump-Russia scandal occurred at Trump Tower last summer. Top members of Donald Trump’s inner circle met with Russian nationals, and after the public learned of the discussion, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement saying participants “primarily discussed” an adoption program, which was “not a campaign issue.”
What the statement failed to mention was that the point of the meeting was for the Republican campaign to acquire stolen information from the Russian government, which had offered to provide dirt to the Trump campaign about Hillary Clinton. The written statement about the meeting, in other words, wasn’t true.
It therefore mattered quite a bit when there were news accounts suggesting the president personally helped write the deceptive press statement – suggesting Donald Trump Sr. participated directly in misleading the American public about his campaign coordinating with Russia.
If a sitting president participated in a cover-up, that’s an important piece of information. And so, when Donald Trump Jr. testified behind closed doors yesterday to the House Intelligence Committee, he was asked about this. Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters what happened:
“[Trump Jr.] answered the overwhelming majority of our questions. There was one significant area though where he declined to answer. He acknowledged having discussed the June 9th meeting and the emails that went into establishing that meeting after those emails became public. He acknowledged discussing that matter with his father, but refused to answer questions about that discussion on the basis of a claim of attorney-client privilege. In my view, there was no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son.”
Just so we’re all clear, Donald Trump Jr. isn’t an attorney. Donald Trump Sr. isn’t an attorney, either. Neither is a client of the other.
And yet, the president’s son, unwilling to answer questions about a key area of interest, decided that since there was a lawyer around during a conversation with his father, he can now refuse to answer the Intelligence Committee’s questions.
No, seriously. That’s what he said.
First, this is nutty, even for Trump World. The attorney-client privilege exists to shield conversations between … wait for it … attorneys and clients. Trump Jr. appears to be making up a privilege out of whole cloth.
Second, the legal creativity surrounding the Russia scandal is increasingly extraordinary. In recent months, we’ve seen prominent figures in the president’s orbit raise bizarre claims about executive privilege, even stranger arguments about a president being unable to obstruct justice, and now non-lawyers are claiming attorney-client privilege. I’m surprised law-school professors everywhere aren’t breaking out in cold sweats.
Third, as Schiff explained to Rachel last night, if congressional Republicans tolerate this kind of evasion, it will only make it more difficult for lawmakers to obtain the truth.
And finally, in case this isn’t painfully obvious, Trump Jr. appears to have something to hide. I wonder why that is.