“Now maybe that’s wrong, I just heard that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that.”
CREDIT: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
During a news conference in Paris on Thursday, President Trump tried to blame the Obama administration for the fact his eldest son eagerly took a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised to provide the campaign with incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Emails Donald Trump Jr. released on Tuesday detailing how the meeting was set up indicate that at the very least, the Trump campaign was eager to collude with the Putin regime. But on Thursday, Trump argued that if it wasn’t for Obama, the meeting never would’ve happened in the first place.
“The lawyer that went to the meeting, I see that she was in the halls of Congress. Also, somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the county was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Trump said. “Now maybe that’s wrong, I just heard that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”
Trump’s comments are based on a story by The Hill published earlier Thursday. The piece reports that the Russian lawyer in question — Natalia Veselnitskaya — “was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under ‘extraordinary circumstances’ before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son.”
The piece — which mentions that Veselnitskaya “showed up in Washington in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia policy” days before her meeting with the Trump campaign — indicates Veselnitskaya was allowed into the US by the Justice Department in 2015 so she could represent a Russian businessman federal court in a forfeiture case. It doesn’t indicate that Obama administration officials did anything unusual, but it does provide Trump with a convenient distraction.
During Thursday’s news conference, Trump characterized Donald Trump Jr. — a 39-year-old father of five — as “a wonderful young man” who simply took a meeting that most other people would have as well.
Ignoring that the emails Trump Jr. released indicate he was told Veselnitskaya was a lawyer officially working on behalf of the Russian government, Trump said his son “took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer.”
“I think from a practical standpoint most people would’ve taken that meeting,” he continued. “It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent.”
Trump went on to insist that “zero happened” as a result of the meeting — Russian hackers published the first batch of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee just days after it occurred — and accused the press of making “a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”
Trump’s blame-it-on-Obama talking point originated on Fox News on Tuesday on the show preceding Sean Hannity’s interview with Trump Jr.
As the Russia scandal has unfolded, Trump has repeatedly tried to shift blame and create distractions by invoking Obama. In early March, as the investigation intensified, Trump accused the Obama administration of wiretapping him before the election. Despite the best efforts of conservative media outlets and Republican members of Congress to validate his claim, no evidence of usual surveillance ever emerged.
In recent weeks, Trump has alternated between calling the Russia story “a big Dem HOAX!” and blaming the Obama administration for not doing more to stop Russian interference in the months before the election.
Trump’s allegation overlooks the fact that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected Obama’s call during the summer of 2016 for a bipartisan statement detailing what the intelligence community knew about Russian meddling and offering federal help to states, dismissing it as “a politically calculated move.”