Trump admits son met Russian for rival's info

But he defends Trump Jr's 2016 session with lawyer to get dirt on Clinton as 'totally legal'

US President Donald Trump is worried that Mr Trump Jr may have unintentionally stumbled into legal jeopardy.
US President Donald Trump is worried that Mr Trump Jr may have unintentionally stumbled into legal jeopardy. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has offered his most definitive and clear public acknowledgement that his oldest son met a Kremlin-aligned lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign to "get information on an opponent".

The President defended the meeting as "totally legal and done all the time in politics".

It is, however, against the law for United States campaigns to receive donations or items of value from foreigners. The meeting between Mr Trump Jr and Ms Natalia Veselnitskaya is now the subject of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

While "collusion" is not mentioned in US criminal statutes, Mr Mueller is investigating whether anyone associated with Mr Trump coordinated with the Russians, which could result in criminal charges if they entered into a conspiracy to break the law, including through cyber hacking or interfering with the election.

Mr Trump wrote in a tweet on Sunday: "Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere."

He concluded by distancing himself from the meeting his son arranged, writing: "I did not know about it!"

He was responding to a Washington Post report over the weekend that although he does not think his eldest son intentionally broke the law, he is worried that Mr Trump Jr may have unintentionally stumbled into legal jeopardy and is embroiled in Mr Mueller's investigation largely because of his connection to the President.

On Sunday, one of the President's attorneys defended the 2016 meeting as something that would not have been illegal under any federal statute.

"The question is: How would it be illegal?" Mr Jay Sekulow asked on ABC News' This Week, suggesting there are no laws prohibiting campaign operatives from meeting and working with foreign agents.

The meeting also included Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is on trial over tax and bank fraud charges.

Mr Trump's tweet, however, conflicts with a statement that Mr Trump Jr released to the New York Times last July, as the newspaper prepared to report about the meeting.

Mr Trump Jr indicated that the meeting had been primarily about the issue of the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

Amid public uproar over the meeting, the President's son was forced to release follow-up statements, ultimately acknowledging that the meeting's true purpose had been to get dirt about Mrs Hillary Clinton from a lawyer he had been told was working for the Russian government.

At the time, Mr Trump offered a similar comment to the one he made on Sunday, dismissing the meeting with the Russian lawyer promising dirt on his political opponent as no big deal.

"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr attended in order to get info on an opponent," Mr Trump tweeted.

The Post reported a few weeks later that Mr Trump Jr's initial misleading statement had been dictated by Mr Trump.

The President's attorneys at first denied Mr Trump's involvement in drafting the response to the Times. But months later, in a letter to explain why Mr Mueller should not interview Mr Trump, they agreed that the President had, in fact, been the author of the statement.

They described the statement, which had not mentioned that the Russian lawyer was expected to bring damaging information about Mrs Clinton, as "short but accurate". And they said Mr Trump Jr, Mr Kushner and White House staff had made a "full disclosure" about that session to Mr Mueller and Congress.

Mr Trump Jr's testimony to Congress contained a similar defence as his father's Sunday tweet, indicating that he saw no reason not to accept a meeting that could yield important information about Mrs Clinton, even though he was told that it was part of an effort by the government of a hostile power.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline 'Trump admits son met Russian for rival's info'. Subscribe