WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Sunday that a Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was designed to “get information on an opponent” — the starkest acknowledgment yet that a statement he dictated last year about the encounter was misleading.
Mr. Trump made the comment in a tweet on Sunday morning that was intended to be a defense of the June 2016 meeting and the role his son Donald Trump Jr. played in hosting it. The president claimed that it was “totally legal” and of the sort “done all the time in politics.”
But the tweet also served as an admission that the Trump team had not been forthright when Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement in July 2017 saying that the meeting had been primarily about the adoption of Russian children.
That statement is being scrutinized by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining a broad array of Mr. Trump’s tweets and public statements to determine whether he made them as part of an effort to deceive investigators.
People close to the president believe that he may be increasing his legal jeopardy by continuing to speak publicly about sensitive matters even as his campaign is under investigation for possible collusion with Russia and he himself is under scrutiny for possible obstruction of justice. Just last week, Mr. Trump said in a tweet that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should shut down the special counsel investigation.
While the president tried again on Sunday to portray the Trump Tower meeting as routine, it is being examined as part of Mr. Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
It is illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual or government. The president and his son have maintained that the campaign did not ultimately receive any damaging materials about Mrs. Clinton as a result of the meeting. But some legal experts contend that by simply sitting for the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. broke the law.
In his tweet on Sunday, the president denied a report in The Washington Post that he was worried about the legal exposure for Donald Trump Jr. While the president said that the meeting was legal, he also distanced himself from it, repeating his assertion that he knew nothing about it at the time.
Donald Trump Jr. issued his statement in July 2017 after The New York Times revealed the existence of the meeting. The meeting’s true purpose was exposed a few days later when The Times published emails between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who helped arrange it. Mr. Goldstone said he had “something very interesting” — sensitive information that “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
After the meeting was revealed, Mr. Trump posted a tweet similar to the one he wrote on Sunday morning: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” But his administration at the time was sticking to the adoption story line, with his press secretary, Sean Spicer, saying later that day that there was no evidence that anything but that topic had been discussed during the meeting.
Numerous White House aides and lawyers for the president aggressively denied at the time that the president had been involved in drafting the misleading statement. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, said in 2017 that “the president was not involved in the drafting of that statement.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary, insisted that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement.
But The Post reported in July 2017 that Mr. Trump had in fact done so. And earlier this year, Mr. Trump’s lawyers acknowledged in a memo to Mr. Mueller that the president had dictated the statement.
On Sunday, Mr. Sekulow admitted that his earlier statement had been erroneous, saying on ABC News’s “This Week” that “I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement.”
In the interview, Mr. Sekulow said that it was not clear what laws the president’s son and the other campaign officials at the Trump Tower meeting might have violated when they met with the Kremlin-connected lawyer.
“Well, the question is: H ow would it be illegal?” Mr. Sekulow said. “What law, statute or rule or regulation’s been violated? Nobody’s pointed to one.”
Mr. Trump’s tweet on Sunday was one in a series in which he renewed his attacks on Mr. Mueller, saying his inquiry was riddled with “lies and corruption.”
It came as Mr. Trump’s lawyers are continuing to try to come to terms on a presidential interview with the special counsel. While his lawyers — who believe that an interview would be a perjury trap — have argued against granting one, Mr. Trump wants to answer questions, and he has pushed his lawyers in recent days to continue negotiating the parameters of an interview.
Mr. Mueller’s investigators have told Mr. Trump’s lawyers that they want to ask him what he knew about the Trump Tower meeting at the time. The president believes that by answering the investigators’ questions, he can explain to Mr. Mueller that he and his campaign did nothing wrong, and bring an end to the investigation.
But the president and his legal advisers have in recent weeks ratcheted up their attacks on Mr. Mueller personally. In other tweets on Sunday, Mr. Trump again called the inquiry a “Rigged Witch Hunt” and singled out Mr. Mueller by name — a step he had avoided until recently.
“Why aren’t Mueller and the 17 Angry Democrats looking at the meetings concerning the Fake Dossier and all of the lying that went on in the FBI and DOJ?” Mr. Trump said, once again attacking his own law enforcement agencies.
“This is the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our country. Fortunately, the facts are all coming out, and fast!” he added.
Mr. Sekulow echoed the president in the interview on Sunday. Asked about the Trump Tower meeting, he repeatedly steered his answers back to attacks on Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
“Let’s be honest with the American people, there are irregularities in this investigation the likes of which we have not seen,” Mr. Sekulow said, mimicking one of the president’s favorite phrases.