White House ‘transparency’ talk withers in Russia glare

Donald Trump and his allies have consistently clung to one virtue as the administration grappled with new revelations that Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in June 2016 to get dirt about Hillary Clinton — transparency.

But by Friday, as new details about the meeting emerged in media reports, critics saw again what they described as a pattern of half-truths, dodges and outright falsehoods from the White House.

Moments before the New York Times published emails revealing planning for the now infamous meeting, Donald Trump Jr. released the emails himself on Twitter, claiming that, after days of changing his story, he decided to release the documents “in order to be totally transparent.”

"My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in a statement later that day.

“Every single day we do our best to give the most accurate information that we have, and we continue to do that every single day, and have offered to be as transparent as possible with all committees and anyone looking into this matter,” principal deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday. “Our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible.”

By Friday, as damaging new details about the meeting emerged, the White House offered little immediate pushback or explanation. NBC News revealed on Friday morning that a Russian-American with suspected ties to Russian intelligence had also attended the June meeting. Also, Yahoo News reported that Trump’s legal team had been aware of the meeting for more than three weeks. Neither of those crucial details had been released by Trump Jr. or the White House.

Neither the White House nor a spokesman for Trump’s outside counsel responded to POLITICO’s requests for comment on Friday.

“The claims of transparency have never reflected reality,” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that has been critical of Trump and his aides. “The administration writ large and Donald Trump Jr. in particular, who’s not part of the administration but obviously has a lot of ties to it, made a lot of statements denying that meetings like this took place for a long time.”

Time and again, the White House has revealed only partial information about topics related to the Russia probe, only to fill in more details as media reports emerge. The White House knew, for example, for weeks that Michael Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition and then lied about it. But that only emerged after the Washington Post broke the news.

And the story around the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the Kremlin-linked lawyer has changed numerous times as the New York Times has reported new details.

While the White House press shop and Trump himself have asserted that Trump only heard about the meeting days before it became public, even that assertion now seems to be in question.

“In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on a trans-Atlantic flight Wednesday night.

The White House has also retreated from other norms surrounding transparency. Trump still has not released his tax returns, breaking decades of precedent for presidential candidates. The White House has discontinued publication of its visitor logs and largely ended televised daily briefings. And the White House press team regularly disregards reporters’ requests for information.

“This administration has lacked transparency in almost every respect,” Bookbinder said. “It seems like [they’re] seizing on an issue that is clearly a weakness and just calling it a strength and hoping that people will believe that.”

“Being forced to reveal information because it’s about to be public is not transparency,” said Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s ethics czar. “The proof that the administration and the Trump family’s behavior is non-transparent, is the fact that they are continually dribbling out the half-truths and partial disclosures in the exact measure necessary to anticipate the day’s looming public revelation.”

Of course, the ramifications of misleading the media and the public only go so far. If the Trump team has engaged in similar obfuscation with investigators, the consequences could be severe. Lying under oath, of course, is perjury, and lying to the FBI during a federal investigation is also a crime.

Already, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, has run into trouble when reporting meetings with foreign contacts to the FBI for his security clearance. He has updated his list three times and added more than 100 names, the New York Times reported recently.

One Republican political operative close to the White House has repeated the same phrase for months when pressed on the Russia scandal: “The truth always comes out.”

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/07/14/white-house-russia-transparency-240574

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s