White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in a wide-ranging, 35-minute interview Monday with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, saying there was “no information provided that was meaningful.”
“Let’s focus on what did not happen in that meeting,” she said, speaking on “New Day,” adding there was “no action taken. Nothing.”
Conway said the President’s son had taken the meeting based on connections made through the Miss Universe pageant and promises of a conversation about adoption policy. She said he did not even know the name of the lawyer going into the meeting.
“Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn’t even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting,” she said. “He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe Pageant.”
“They get into the meeting and it quickly turns into a pretext for Russian adoption, according to his statements, that the comments this woman is making about any type of information on Hillary Clinton were vague. They were meaningless.”
Trump Jr. changed his account of events as he was presented with new reporting by The New York Times. When the paper first reported on the meeting – but not about the promise of information about Democrats – he said it was a “short, introductory meeting” about adoption.
“I asked (Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner) and (then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort) 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 that time and there was no follow up,” Trump Jr. initially said in a statement.
But on Sunday, when the Times – citing three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it – reported about the lawyer offering to provide information about the Democratic National Committee before he took the meeting, he acknowledged that Democrats and Hillary Clinton were discussed. He said the lawyer had “no meaningful information” to offer him, adding that he was not told her name prior to the meeting.
“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,” Trump Jr. said in the statement. “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.”
He added, “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.”
He defended himself, sarcastically, on Twitter Monday: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen.”
Trump Jr. on Twitter said there were no inconsistencies in his statements.
“I simply provided more details,” he tweeted Monday.
Cuomo, however, seized on the changes in Trump Jr.’s story.
“He changed his story twice. You talked about being in a court of law – not good when you change your story,” Cuomo said. “There are big implications when you change your story like this. Second of all, even if it is true, whether or not it was good information, Kellyanne, doesn’t mean it was a smart move to take a meeting with a Russian-connected person who was going to give you negative information about your opponent. That could create huge legal issues. You know that.”
“I admire your moxie, sitting there with the CNN chyron next to you,” she replied.
“I could not be more proud to have that CNN chyron next to me,” Cuomo fired back.
Throughout the often-tense interview, Conway leveled a sustained attack on the media and CNN in particular, suggesting it was obsessed with the probes into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“Aren’t you the least bit reluctant, if not embarrassed, that you now talk about Russia more than you talk about America?” Conway asked.
Cuomo, however, argued that the President’s Twitter feed, which often features attacks on the media and commentary on the Russia investigations, was evidence that the issue mattered to him as well.
“The President spends as much time tweeting about this as anything else,” said Cuomo. “I’ll show you his thread right now. It’s not filled with ideas for new jobs. He’s on this stuff as well.”
“I’m sorry, he’s the President of the United States and you are looking at his … social media instead of listening to what he does,” replied Conway, who followed up with: “Name three things he talked about at the Department of Transportation.”
Despite her sharp words, however, Conway said twice she had not come on air to attack CNN.
“We appreciate the platform, Chris. But, look … I’m not here to bash CNN,” she said, adding, “We need to find a way to work together better.”