WASHINGTON ― Forty times President Donald Trump has posted statements on Twitter asserting "NO COLLUSION" with Russia during the 2016 election. He made the claim standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month, and then a day later during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Sunday, he negated all of that by admitting that his campaign had tried to collude with Russia to win the presidency, after all.
Trump wrote in an 8:35 a.m. post on Twitter that the purpose of a June 9, 2016, gathering at Trump Tower was "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!"
That new admission, however, is completely at odds with the statement Trump crafted for use in the July 2017 news story that first reported the Trump Tower meeting. In that statement, he falsely claimed that the session attended by his eldest son and other high-ranking campaign aides was "primarily" about the adoption of Russian children.
"Donald Trump is every attorney's worst nightmare," said Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant and prominent Trump critic. "He combines a complete lack of personal discipline with an impulse to place himself at ever greater risk of prosecution. He's the 'Bad Idea Jeans' of presidents."
Just a half hour after Trump's new tweet, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow admitted that he had put out falsehoods last year when he also claimed that the meeting was about adoption.
"I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement," he said on ABC's "This Week" program, before continuing attacks on the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in U.S. politics, a strategy Trump personally began from the time he took office.
Sekulow ― whose career has made him an expert on school voucher and religious freedom cases, not criminal law - claimed that meeting with Russians tied to their country's government with the goal of getting assistance to win a U.S. election was not illegal.
"The question is how would it be illegal?" Sekulow said. "The question is, what law, statute or rule or regulation has been violated? No one has pointed to one."
In reality, numerous criminal lawyers have pointed out that colluding with a foreign power to win an election or even attempting to do so may constitute conspiracy against the United States.
That Sekulow had misstated the origin of the July 2017 statement provided to The New York Times and attributed to Donald Trump Jr. became clear earlier this year, in a leaked letter from Trump's legal team to Mueller's office. In it, lawyers stated that Trump had dictated the statement written aboard Air Force One as it flew back from the G-20 summit in Germany. At the time, Trump and his White House had falsely claimed that he had only offered his input into the crafting of the statement.
While Trump has claimed since taking office that "no collusion" occurred between his campaign and Russia and that Mueller was conducting a "witch hunt," Trump's acceptance of Russian help has been out in the open since the final month of the 2016 campaign.
Throughout that October, Trump cited emails disseminated by WikiLeaks on a near daily basis ― even though he began receiving briefings in August 2016 that told him that U.S. intelligence agencies had determined those emails had been stolen by Russian spies. U.S. intelligence made that assessment public in an Oct. 7 statement.
Trump publicly denied that it was even possible to know who had stolen the emails, at times blaming it on other countries, a 400-pound man sitting in his bed or someone from New Jersey.
"I think there's plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight. Now, that's a different statement than saying that there's proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy," Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" show on Sunday. "Bob Mueller will have to determine that."
Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey a few months after taking office. He told both NBC News and Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Mueller was appointed to take over the probe after the firing.
Since that point, it has resulted in charges against 32 individuals and three Russian companies and five guilty pleas, including those from Trump's deputy campaign chairman and his initial national security adviser. Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign at a crucial time leading into the Republican National Convention, is currently on trial on charges concerning his previous business activities that grew out of Mueller's probe.