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When news broke that Donald Trump Jr. was the latest to come under scrutiny for Trumpworld’s alleged role in colluding with Russia in the 2016 election, it marked the second person in the President’s inner circle dragged into the widening PR and political crisis.
As President Trump, campaign associates and top advisors have found out, the Russia probe continues in Congress and the Special Counsel’s office no matter how many tweets and denials the administration makes. And the media continues following the story and breaking news as The New York Times did on Donald Jr.
All Don Jr. had to do was to look to his brother-in-law, Kushner, who recently came under scrutiny after reports he attended a meeting aimed at setting up back channel communications with the Russians. And now Don Jr. is getting the Russia Beltway treatment over a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin in 2016. The agenda: depending on who you believe, was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton or to discuss Russian policy on adoption. Kushner was also reported at the meeting.
In a crisis, you always want to be honest. But credibility is key and the Trump administration appears to be losing that battle. A majority of Americans believe President Trump has done something either illegal or unethical when it comes to Russia, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. The poll results were reported July 6 on NPR.
According to the poll, the 54% of people who believe something untoward has gone on include a quarter who believe the president has done something illegal in regards to dealings with Russia, and 29% who think he has done something unethical, but not illegal. Thirty-six percent believe Trump has done nothing wrong. That reflects an increase in the number believing something either illegal or unethical went on compared to a February 2017 Marist survey when 49% thought the president had done something either illegal or unethical regarding Russia.
To address the charges, Don Jr. hired New York white collar attorney Alan Futerfas, who issued a statement calling the meeting “much ado about nothing.” He said Don Jr. believed he was being offered information about “alleged wrongdoing” by Clinton in dealings with Russia.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) has already said he wants to hear from Don Jr.
While all this plays out, the PR and credibility battle continues in the media.
In an appearance on CNN with Chris Cuomo, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer. In a 35-minute interview, she said there was “no information provided that was meaningful.”
“Let’s focus on what did not happen in that meeting,” she said, adding there was “no action taken. Nothing.”
According to media reports, Don Jr. changed his account when presented with new reporting by the 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.
But when the Times reported about the lawyer offering to provide information about the DNC before he took the meeting, he acknowledged that Democrats and Clinton were discussed.
Cuomo challenged Conway on the changes in Don Jr.’s story.
She shot back: “I admire your moxie, sitting there with the CNN chyron next to you.” To which Cuomo replied, “I could not be more proud to have that CNN chyron next to me.”
No matter the spin, the old Yogi Berra quote prevails here: It ain’t over till it’s over.
About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms