President Trump again defended his son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian attorney last year during the campaign, saying in a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday that “zero” improprieties occurred in a meeting that “most people would have taken.”
“As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man,” Trump said. “He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer.”
In fact, Trump Jr. accepted a meeting with a woman who was described to him in an email as a “Russian government attorney” who he believed possessed incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, which could help his father's presidential campaign.
Trump's comments in Paris, in advance of the country's Bastille Day celebration Friday, marked yet another instance in which a domestic controversy has followed him abroad, this time in the form of a newly disclosed meeting between a Russian attorney with Kremlin ties and Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, and Paul Manafort, who was serving as Trump's campaign chairman at the time.
In response to a reporter's question, the president tried to cast the meeting as a brief one — “It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast” — that any political operative would have taken.
“I do think this: I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said. “It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent.”
However, Christopher A. Wray, Trump's nominee to serve as FBI director, said in congressional testimony Wednesday that any politician receiving such an email from a foreign entity offering damaging information on a political opponent should alert the FBI: “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,” Wray said.
But Trump cast the meeting as simply standard practice in the cutthroat world of presidential politics, saying he often received phone calls from people saying that had information that could damage Clinton.
“Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information,” the president said. “In the case of Don, he listened, I guess they talked about, as I see it, they talked about adoption and some things. 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 were doing.”
The president, who found out about his son's meeting just several days before the New York Times first broke the news, declined to answer whether he felt misled by his own team for not knowing sooner about the controversial meeting.
Macron, too, dodged a question about whether he believed Trump should have taken a tougher line against Russia after it became clear to U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, saying he did not want to interfere in Trump's “domestic life.”
“What a good answer that is,” the president said.