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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Trump faces fresh questions after reports he dictated son's statement about Russia meeting

'Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead,' a White House adviser told the Washington Post

Then US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump welcomes his sons Eric (left) and Donald Jr (centre) to the stage at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire on November 11, 2015. Brian Snyder / Files
Then US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump welcomes his sons Eric (left) and Donald Jr (centre) to the stage at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire on November 11, 2015. Brian Snyder / Files

Donald Trump faces fresh questions about whether he tried to obscure details of links to Russia after reports the president dictated his son’s statement claiming a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer had nothing to do with his presidential campaign.

It later emerged that Donald Trump Jr had been told that Natalia Veselnitskaya had information that could be used against Hillary Clinton and her run for the White House.

The revelation will heighten suspicions the administration has something to hide as federal investigators continue to probe Moscow’s attempts to influence last year’s election.

Lawyers said Mr Trump’s alleged intervention could place him and close advisers in deeper legal jeopardy.

He already faces accusations of obstructing justice by removing James Comey as head of the FBI while he led the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead,” a White House adviser told the Washington Post. “Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

As reporters last month homed in on the 2016 meeting, Donald Jr initially issued a statement claiming they had discussed nothing more sinister than adoption. However, it quickly emerged he had been told that Ms Veselnitskaya would bring damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian effort to help his father.

The Washington Post said Trump advisers wanted to issue a full and truthful explanation to protect the administration if further details emerged.

Instead, flying home on Air Force One from the G20 summit in Germany, Mr Trump changed the plan, according to the report. The president dictated a statement saying the meeting had “primarily discussed a programme about the adoption of Russian children”.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow was working to help Mr Trump win the 2016 election at the expense of Mrs Clinton, who they believed would prove a more hostile president.

They are also looking into any collusion between Mr Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Although they have found no evidence that campaign officials were aware of Russian hacking efforts, Donald Jr’s own email chain suggests he was told that Ms Veselnitskaya was bringing information as part of Russian government support for Mr Trump.

Robert Shapiro, professor of political science at Columbia University, said every new revelation deepened suspicions of a cover-up.

“The question is why did Trump feel the need to intervene and what exactly was being hidden,” he said.

At the same time, it provided more incentive for Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the federal investigation, to probe more deeply.

“It does connect Trump more directly to that meeting,” he added.

David Sklansky, a professor of criminal law at Stanford Law School, said a misleading statement did not constitute a crime in itself but it could be used as evidence of corrupt intent.

“Lying usually isn't a crime,” he said. But “it could be relevant in determining whether something else the president did, like firing Comey, was done corruptly.”

Last month, the president’s own legal team said he played no part in writing the statement.

Jay Sekulow, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, told NBC News at the time: “I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.”

On Monday, he issued a fresh statement denying the latest twist as inaccurate.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterisations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” he said.

The episode comes at a time when the White House is trying to reboot after a difficult first six months.

John Kelly, a retired four-star general, took over as chief of staff on Monday, tasked with unifying a divided administration.