US President defends son over Russia meeting

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his eldest son as "innocent" following the release of damaging emails on his ties to Russia, but the controversy is plunging the White House back in crisis.
Mr Donald Trump Jr is embroiled in a scandal involving a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during his father's presidential campaign last year.
Mr Donald Trump Jr is embroiled in a scandal involving a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during his father's presidential campaign last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

He says Trump Jr is innocent and calls reports part of 'greatest witch-hunt in political history'

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has jumped to the defence of his son, who said in an interview with Fox News that he did not tell his father about a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the election campaign last year, in which he had hoped to get compromising information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Asked if he had spoken to his father before or after the meeting in June last year in New York, Mr Donald Trump Jr said on news anchor Sean Hannity's show on Tuesday night: "No. It was just a nothing. There was nothing to tell."

He added: "It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame."

Earlier in the day, he released a series of e-mails detailing an agreement to the meeting with Ms Natalia Veselnitskaya after an intermediary, music promoter Rob Goldstone, had promised it could yield "sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump".

"In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently," Mr Trump Jr said in the interview.

He added: "For me, this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I had been hearing about, probably under-reported for years, not just during the campaign, so I think I wanted to hear it out.

"But really, it went nowhere and it was apparent that was not what the meeting was about."

After initially holding back, the President yesterday denounced reports about his son's meeting as part of "the greatest witch-hunt in political history".

He fired off posts on Twitter insisting that his son was "innocent" of wrongdoing, and embracing the theory that his son may even have been "the victim" in the case. He assailed the use of anonymous sources in the reports, although in this instance, the story was confirmed by the e-mails released.

"My son Donald did a good job last night," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to his son's appearance on Fox News. "He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch-hunt in political history. Sad!"

In another message, he added: "Remember, when you hear the words 'sources say' from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist."

And he retweeted a Fox News Twitter message quoting one of the network's commentators as saying: "I believe Don Jr is the victim here."

Mr Trump's tweets yesterday morning and late Tuesday represented a shift in strategy. He had said nothing publicly about his son's meeting for days after it was first reported in The New York Times, and after the e-mails were released, he issued only a tepid one-sentence statement through his White House spokesman, calling his son a "high-quality person".

Advisers had urged him to avoid publicly commenting on the reports, but evidently he changed course as he watched coverage on cable television.

In a twist to the saga, Russian real estate mogul Aras Agalarov yesterday rubbished the e-mails identifying him as a potential middleman for allegedly incriminating Kremlin information on Mrs Clinton.

He also said he only vaguely knew Mr Goldstone, who manages his pop-star son Emin.

"I think this is some sort of fiction. I don't know who is making it up," Mr Agalarov told Russia's Business FM radio station, according to a transcript posted online.

"What has Hillary Clinton got to do with anything? I don't know. I really don't know Rob Goldstone well."

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'US President defends son over Russia meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe