U.S. PRESIDENT Donald Trump has said
he did not fault his son Donald Trump Jr. for
meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016
presidential election campaign and that he was
unaware of the meeting until a few days ago.
Asked if he knew that his son was meeting
with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last
year, the president told Reuters in a White House
interview: “No, that I didn’t know until a couple
of days ago when I heard about this.”
Trump Jr. eagerly agreed to meet the woman
he was told was a Russian government lawyer
who might have damaging information about
Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of
Moscow’s official support for his father’s
campaign, according to emails the son released
on Tuesday.
Seated at his Oval Office desk, Trump said he
did not fault his son for holding the meeting,
writing it off as a decision made in the heat of an
upstart, non-traditional campaign.
“I think many people would have held that
meeting,” Trump said.
“It was a 20-minute meeting, I guess, from
what I’m hearing,” Trump said. “Many people,
and many political pros, said everybody would
do that.”
The emails were the most concrete evidence
that Trump campaign officials might have
been willing to accept Russian help to win
the Nov. 8 election, a subject that has cast a
cloud over Trump’s presidency and prompted
investigations by the U.S. Justice Department
and Congress.
Donald Trump Jr., in an interview with Fox
News on Tuesday, said: “In retrospect, I probably
would have done things a little differently.”
In the White House interview, the president
said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir
Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence
says was Russian meddling in the presidential
campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes
of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin
last Friday in Germany on the election meddling
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady
Melania Trump in Washington, U.S. July 12,
2017.Jonathan Ernst
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did
not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second
time in a totally different way. He said absolutely
not,” Trump said.
Asked if he believed Putin’s denial, Trump
“Look. Something happened and we have to
find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing
like that to happen to our election process. So
something happened and we have to find out
what it is,” he said.
About Putin, he added: “Somebody did say if
he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about
it. Which is a very interesting point.”
While U.S. intelligence agencies and even
members of Trump’s Cabinet have said Russia
meddled in the election, Trump has wavered on
the subject, at times suggesting that other actors
might have been involved.
Trump equivocated on whether he felt he could
trust Putin. He said Putin and Chinese President
Xi Jinping both look out for their countries’
interests, as he looks out for U.S. interests.
“I am not a person who goes around trusting
lots of people. But he’s the leader of Russia. It
is the second most powerful nuclear power on
earth. I am the leader of the United States. I love
my country. He loves his country,” Trump said.
As in the past, Trump said there was no
collusion between his campaign and Russia.
“There was zero coordination. It’s the dumbest
thing I’ve ever heard,” he said.
The Republican president said Democrats
had used the accusations to justify Clinton’s
loss in November, saying: “The White House is
functioning beautifully despite the hoax made
up by the Democrats.”
Although he and Putin were able to forge a
ceasefire agreement in part of Syria, Trump said
their interests collided over other issues. He said
his U.S. military buildup and drive to increase
U.S. energy production were in direct conflict
with Putin, whose nation is dependent on energy
Their differences made him wonder whether
Putin really had supported him last year, as
many news reports have suggested.
“It’s really the one question I wish I would
have asked Putin: Were you actually supporting