President Donald Trump defended his son and dismissed Donald Trump Jr.’s controversial meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last year, arguing Thursday that “most people” would have gone. too.
“I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump told reporters during a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace in Paris. “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.”
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Trump Jr. has said he went to the meeting because he was told the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, would have information that could harm then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
But the president echoed his son and his administration’s top aides, framing such information as simply “opposition research” into a political opponent and downplaying the significance of his son’s meeting with a person from Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community has said meddled in the 2016 campaign to boost Trump over Clinton.
“I have only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up: ‘Oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person or, frankly, Hillary,’” Trump said. “That’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world. But it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.”
Trump Jr.’s meeting specifically, the president said, “went very, very quickly.”
“Two other people were in the room,” Trump said, referring to his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “I guess one of them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on the meeting.”
Trump also called his son “a wonderful young man” and disputed the characterization that Veselnitskaya — who met with Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort — was a Russian government lawyer.
“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer,” Trump said. “Not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer.”
According to an email exchange Trump Jr. released Tuesday, however, an intermediary, the publicist Robert Goldstone, reached out to him last June to set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” who had information on Clinton.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone said. Trump Jr. responded, in part, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
In Trump Jr.’s case, the president said, his son is “a fine person” who took a meeting with a Russian lawyer that provided nothing useful for the campaign.
“I guess they talked about, as I see it, they talked about adoption and some things,” he said, echoing Trump Jr.’s original defense of the meeting, which did not mention the promise of information on Clinton. “Adoption wasn’t even a part of the campaign, but nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting, and, honestly, I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”
The president also alleged that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was responsible for Veselnitskaya’s ability to travel to the United States, apparently referencing a Fox News report that said Lynch approved temporary permission for the lawyer to enter the country after her visa was denied earlier that year. Veselnitskaya was working on a court case in the United States. The Hill first published the news late Wednesday, citing court documents as well as Justice Department documents and interviews.
“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now maybe that’s wrong — I just heard that a little while ago — but I was a little surprised to hear that,” Trump said. “So she was there because of Lynch.”