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The White House's story on the Trump Tower meeting shifts — yet again

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. walk out onto the North Portico of the White House
President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. walk out onto the North Portico of the White House on July 5.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — First, it was just about adoptions. Then it was a promise of dirt on Clinton, but it came to nothing. Then President Donald Trump didn’t draft his son’s initial statement. Then he did. Then it was “irrelevant.” And now Trump admits the meeting was “to get information on an opponent.”

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about the White House’s explanation of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, it’s inconsistency.

Here’s a look at how the story has evolved:

June 9, 2016: Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort attend a meeting at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others.

July 8, 2017: Trump Jr.: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”

The New York Times reports on the June 9 meeting, prompting Trump Jr. to issue this statement: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

July 9, 2017: Trump Jr.: “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered.”

After the New York Times reports that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Clinton in the meeting, he issued a new statement: “After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”

July 11, 2017: Trump Jr.: “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research.”

The New York Times publishes emails exchanged between Rob Goldstone and Trump Jr., revealing that Goldstone said that the meeting would yield “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” — and that Trump Jr. responded to that email by saying “if it's what you say I love it.”

In a Twitter statement preempting publication of the story, Trump Jr. wrote, “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research. I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn't work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act.”

July 16, 2017: Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow: Trump was not involved in drafting July 8 statement.

On "Meet the Press," Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said, “Let me say this — but I do want to be clear — that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.”

July 13, 2017: Trump: “Most people would have taken that meeting.”

During an appearance with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump said, “I do think this: I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent.”

July 31, 2017: The Washington Post: Trump himself “personally dictated” the July 8 statement.

Aug. 1, 2017: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders: “He certainly didn’t dictate.”

In a press briefing, Sanders said, “He certainly didn’t dictate, but he — like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.”

June 2, 2018: Trump lawyers: Trump “dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article.”

In a memo to special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s lawyers wrote, “You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr. His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.”

June 3, 2018: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani: Sekulow was just “uninformed” about Trump’s dictation of statement.

On "Meet the Press," Giuliani says “I think [Sekulow] was uninformed at the time just like I was when I came into the case. He was just in the case. This is a point that maybe wasn't clarified in terms of recollection and his understanding of it.”

June 15, 2018: Trump said statement to New York Times is “irrelevant” because it was not to a “high tribunal of judges.”

Trump told reporters in a gaggle at the White House: “It’s irrelevant. It’s a statement to the New York Times — the phony, failing New York Times … That’s not a statement to a high tribunal of judges.”

Aug. 5, 2018: Trump tweeted that the meeting was “to get information on an opponent” and “I did not know about it”

In a statement on Twitter, Trump said: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

In Democratic primaries, it’s often Bernie Sanders vs. EMILY’s List

Back in 2016, there wasn’t much love lost between Sen. Bernie Sanders and EMILY’s List, the Democratic advocacy group that backs pro-abortion, female political candidates. The two sides sparred over candidate endorsements (including for Hillary Clinton) and the Sanders campaign’s "condescending” comments about Clinton’s campaign, and — last year — over Sanders’ appearance at a women’s conference.

Fast forward to now, and the two factions are facing off more and more in the 2018 Democratic primaries. And that’s largely been because Sanders — in races that feature prominent women — has often endorsed a rival male candidate instead.

In Tuesday’s Michigan gubernatorial primary, it’s Gretchen Whitmer (endorsed by EMILY’s List) vs. Abdul El Sayed (endorsed by Sanders). And in Kansas’s 3rd District, it’s Sharice Davids (endorsed by EMILY’s List) vs. Brent Welder (endorsed by Sanders).

The list goes on: Sanders has endorsed Andrew Gillum in Florida (who’s up against, among others, EMILY’s List-endorsed Gwen Graham); Greg Edwards in PA-7 (who was defeated by EMILY’s List-endorsed Susan Wild); and Pete D'Alessandro in IA-3 (who was defeated by EMILY’s List-endorsed Cindy Axne).

It’s completely fair to note that Sanders has chosen candidates who align with his own policy priorities over more moderate competitors. And he did pick Stacey Abrams in Georgia (who won her primary) and Marie Newman in IL-3 (who lost) — but so did most national Democratic groups, including EMILY’s List.

More notably, he also DIDN’T endorse two very progressive female candidates before they won their primaries — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in NY-14 and Kara Eastman in NE-2.

Critics of EMILY’s List have suggested that the well-funded group simply picks primary winners and losers from afar. “We don’t want to be supportive of candidates who simply raise money from the wealthy and then put 30-second ads on TV,” Sanders said in a rally for Welder.

It’s all feels like a replay of the Sanders-Clinton wars of 2016, a conflict so steeped in gender issues that the term “Bernie Bro” was born. Our take: In a year when women are such a dominant force in Democratic politics, the narrative that Sanders isn’t prioritizing female candidates may not be great for his brand in the long run.

A look at the ad spending in Tuesday's Ohio special election

Tuesday's big special election in Ohio features Republican Troy Balderson (for whom Trump stumped on Saturday) and Democrat Danny O’Connor. The ad war has been largely about entitlements, with both candidates claiming the other will put Social Security and Medicare at risk.

GOP outside groups have spent big for Balderson, as he tries to fend off what could be a double-digit over-performance by O’Connor over Clinton’s numbers in 2016, when Trump won the district by 11 points.

Here’s a look at the ad spending so far, courtesy of Advertising Analytics:

  • Congressional Leadership Fund (pro-Balderson): $2.7 million
  • O’Connor campaign: $2.3 million
  • NRCC (pro-Balderson): $925k
  • Balderson campaign: $515k
  • NRCC/Balderson joint buy: $462k
  • DCCC (pro-O’Connor): $392k
  • DCCC/O’Connor joint buy: $332k
  • Be a Hero PAC (pro-O’Connor): $86k

Kasich: Balderson didn’t invite Trump to Ohio

By the way, don’t miss what Gov. John Kasich said about Trump’s visit to Ohio over the weekend.

On "This Week," Kasich suggested that suburban women in Ohio are turned off by Trump, saying of the special election “It’s really kind of shocking because this should be just a slam dunk and it’s not.” Then, he added, Balderson told him that he didn’t invite the president at all.

“I said, 'Troy, why — did you invite Trump in here, the president?' He said, 'No, I didn't,'" Kasich said. "So, you know, I think Donald Trump decides where he wants to go and I think they think they're firing up the base, but I have to tell you, at the same time that he comes in here, I was with some women last night who said, 'Hey, you know what, I'm not voting,' — and they're Republicans.”

(Balderson isn’t addressing the claim, by the way.)

Talk about a conflicting message the day before a high-stakes special election, as Balderson tries to thread the needle between the district’s moderates and its Trump fans.

Tim Kaine is up with this first TV ad

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is up with his first TV ad, a positive spot focused on his efforts to support job training and the economy.

“Our economy works best when everyone has a skill, like shipbuilding … Here in Virginia, we have to build an economy that works for all,” he says in the ad, which also offers some background on his upbringing and missionary work in Honduras.

It’s a six-figure buy that will run in Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and the Tri-Cities area.