In the month after the start of World War II, Winston Churchill said he couldn’t determine what Russia was going to do: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Nearly eight decades later, the same can be said about the Trump administration’s relationships with Russia.
Since Friday, when President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president and his spokesmen have offered conflicting and contradictory accounts of what was said and agreed to.
Among the big unanswered questions: What happened to the joint cyber-security agreement Trump said had been reached? Were U.S. sanctions against Russia brought up or not? Those riddles quickly got swallowed up by a bigger mystery: Trump arrived home Saturday evening as The New York Times was reporting that in June 2016, his eldest son, son-in-law and then-campaign manager had secretly met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. Donald Trump Jr. claimed the meeting was about Russia’s ban on adoptions by U.S. families.
It got worse. On Sunday the Times reported that Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort had been lured to the meeting with a promise the lawyer had potentially damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. quickly changed his story, admitting that dirt on Clinton had been brought up, but there was nothing “meaningful” in what the Russian lawyer presented.
A third shoe dropped Monday evening when the Times reported that the meeting was arranged after Trump Jr. got an email from a well-connected Moscow music publicist saying lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had information that was part of a Russian government scheme to help Trump’s candidacy by hurting Clinton’s.
Then on Tuesday morning the Times published the text of publicist Rob Goldstone’s email: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Did Trump Jr. call a lawyer or the FBI? No, he hit reply: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
This meeting was June 9, 2016. The following month, the FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies began investigating Russian election meddling. In October, the U.S. intelligence community said it was confident the Russian government was behind the cyber-hacking campaign.
President Trump responded by denigrating the intelligence community — most recently last week in Poland — and firing FBI director James Comey, who had refused to drop the investigation. The president and his spokesmen consistently have denied that anyone in the Trump campaign cooperated with the Russians.
Trump Jr. said Monday that he’d be happy to talk about all of this with the Senate Intelligence Committee. As soon as he’s under oath, the first question must be, “How much of this did you tell your father?”