President Trump said during a press conference in Paris on Thursday that most people would have taken the campaign meeting that his son attended with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
“My son is a wonderful young man,” Trump said of Donald Trump Jr., 39. “He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly — very fast — two of the people in the room, one of them left almost immediately and the other was not really focused on the meeting. I do think this from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting, it’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent.”
Trump was responding to a question about the fact that his candidate for FBI director, Christopher Wray, had said in his confirmation hearing Wednesday that the FBI should be called about any attempts to influence the election by a foreign state.
According to emails Trump Jr. released earlier in the week, he took the meeting in June 2016 after being promised information that would be helpful in incriminating Clinton’s dealings with the Russian government. In an email, music publicist Bob Goldstone added that “this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The meeting was with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who reportedly has ties to the Russian government and spy agency. Both Veselnitskaya and the Kremlin have denied any connection.
Both Trumps said the president was unaware of the meeting, but hours after Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting on June 7, 2016, his father promised to deliver a major address detailing Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.”
Trump, who was appearing Thursday in a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, said that he had been offered plenty of opposition research on his opponents and that it was standard operating procedure in politics. He also blamed the Obama administration for allowing Veselnitskaya into the country in the first place.
Trump Jr. said of his handling of the meeting that “in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had pressed Wray on Trump Jr.’s email exchange during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“You’re going to be director of the FBI, pal,” said Graham. “So here’s what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.”
“To the members of this committee,” said Wray, “any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”