Additionally, that development would also potentially ensnare any Trump associates who told federal investigators or congressional committees that Trump was unaware of the meeting. Those possibilities would all be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating potential obstruction of justice as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I think the implications are both political and legal,” said Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard and a former federal prosecutor. “Trump’s public denials that he knew about the meeting are not themselves criminal, even if he knew them to be false. But they could be part of a larger obstruction-of-justice case nonetheless. Mueller could allege that Trump’s false statements were part of an effort to orchestrate a false narrative that would be fed to investigators.”
The public first learned about the Trump Tower meeting last July in a New York Times report. The newspaper revealed that Donald Trump Jr. had set up the meeting in June 2016 after being told by an associate, Rob Goldstone, that Russian government officials had “dirt” to offer on Hillary Clinton. “If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. told Goldstone in an email. Among others at the session were Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, who has since been indicted by Mueller; and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney said to have close ties to the Kremlin.
Trump Jr. has since said he was given no derogatory information on Clinton, and that the meeting instead focused on “adoptions,” a reference to the Magnitsky Act, a set of 2012 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants repealed. (In retaliation for the sanctions, Russia had banned Americans from adopting Russian children.)
Shortly after the meeting was revealed, President Trump dictated a misleading statement about it for the press, asserting that it was “primarily about adoption” and omitting the fact that Trump Jr. had set it up hoping to obtain information from the Russian government. Whiting noted that if Cohen’s assertion is substantiated, Trump’s statement could also provide evidence of obstruction of justice.
“By dictating the press statement … and by making multiple allegedly false public statements, Trump communicated the false party line to all other potential witnesses,” Whiting said. “So this revelation that Trump knew about the meeting could be evidence of this larger, illegal, obstructive effort by Trump.”
Trump Jr. could also be vulnerable to repercussions from Cohen’s claim because he told congressional lawmakers that his father was not aware of the meeting. If “attorneys for the Southern District of New York,” which is investigating Cohen, “can somehow corroborate Cohen’s claim, then Donald Trump Jr. is in substantial legal jeopardy for having made, at a minimum, false statements to Congress,” said David Gomez, a former FBI agent and a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.