Amid reports the president has confided to friends and advisors he is worried that Donald Trump Jr may foul of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into alleged collision between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president made perhaps his clearest admission yet that the meeting was to get information on his opponent. Initially, Mr Trump and his son said the meeting was about a Russian adoption programme.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.
“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere.”
The meeting on June 9 2016 involved Mr Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, Paul Manafort, his then campaign manager, Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, a prominent Russian-American lobbyist, Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer known to the Trump family, and a translator, Anatoli Samochornov. Also present was the British man who organised the meetings Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who worked as a publicist for the well connected Russian singer Emin Agalarov.
When news of the meeting was first reported by the New York Times in July 2017, Mr Trump Jr said it was to talk about a stalled Russian adoption programme.
Ms Veselnitskaya has worked on behalf of the Russian government to get the US government to lift the Magnitsky Act sanctions, targeting several people close to Vladimir Putin for their alleged role in the murder of Russian lawyer and whistleblower. The sanctions infuriated Mr Putin and he responded by halting the adoption of Russian babies by Americans.
But Mr Trump Jr later admitted he had agreed to the meeting after being told Ms Veselnitskaya wanted to offer the Trump campaign dirt on Ms Clinton. An email released showing a conversation between Mr Trump Jr and Mr Goldstone, revealed the president’s eldest son, saying: “If it’s what you say, I love it especially later in the summer.”
Mr Trump was asked about the meeting last summer while in France, attending Bastille Day celebrations in Paris with President Emmanuel Macron.
“My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” he said. “It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast.”
He added: “I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. Politics isn’t the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard.”
Ms Veselnitskaya has always denied having links to the Kremlin or offering information about Ms Clinton.
While many Democrats and experts have suggested the Trump Tower meeting was proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, the White House and its allies have been working to undermine the credibility of Mr Mueller’s probe. They have also questioned whether collusion itself was a crime.
On Sunday, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow continued to press this point, telling ABC News: “The question is what law, statute or rule or regulation has been violated, and nobody has pointed to one.”
He added: “I don’t represent Don Jr, but I will tell you I have no knowledge at all of Don Jr being told that he’s a target of any investigation, and I have no knowledge of him being interviewed by the special counsel.”
Reuters said legal experts have pointed out several possible criminal charges, including conspiracy against the United States and aiding and abetting a conspiracy.
It added that despite Mr Trump’s public Twitter denial, the president has expressed worry that his son may face legal exposure even as he believes he did nothing wrong, according to three people close to the White House familiar with the president’s thinking.
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