President Trump offered a novel defense of his embattled son Donald Trump Jr. in Paris on Thursday. It basically boiled down to this: Trump Jr. is a “young man” who was taken advantage of by a Russian lawyer who wouldn't even have been in this country if it weren't for the Obama administration.
That's an oversimplification of what Trump said, yes, but it's certainly what he was getting at. Let's break down the quote.
“My son is a wonderful young man.”
Donald Trump Jr., it bears noting, is 39. He is the same age, in fact, as the man who was standing next to Trump at that moment and happens to be the president of France, Emmanuel Macron. But this seems to be a talking point. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of Trump Jr.'s top defenders, has called him “a very nice young man.” And a close Trump ally told The Washington Post this week that Trump Jr. was “an honest kid” who just wanted to hunt, fish and run the family business.
At the end of his answer, Trump again referred to Trump Jr.'s age: “So, again, I have a son who's a great young man.” The message seems to be that Trump Jr. is inexperienced and was taken advantage of.
Update: Trump just did it two more times, telling reporters aboard Air Force One, "He's a good boy. He's a good kid."
“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer — not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer.”
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, does not hold an official government title, but she has ties to the Kremlin. And she was presented to Trump Jr. as a “Russian government attorney” peddling information from the Russian government in those emails that were released this week. The emails said this multiple times. Put plainly: There was no way Trump Jr. didn't think he was working with the Russian government, based on those emails.
The president then returned to some familiar comments from recent days — about the brevity of the meeting and how prevalent opposition research is — before getting to the Obama part. Here's what he said:
“Now the lawyer that went to the meeting, I see that she was in the halls of Congress also. Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch. Now, maybe that's wrong, because I just heard about that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that: She's here because of Lynch.”
Trump seems to be referring to a report in the Hill that says Lynch granted Veselnitskaya entry to this country despite her visa application having been turned down. The report states that Veselnitskaya was granted access “for the limited purpose of helping a company owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, her client, defend itself against a Justice Department asset forfeiture case in federal court in New York City.”
So why is Trump bringing this up? Apparently because he wants to argue that this whole situation is, at its root, partially the fault of the Obama administration. There is really no other reason to bring that up. The implication sure seems to be that President Barack Obama and Lynch let this bad person into the country, and look what happened!
And it follows a pattern of Trump and the White House muddying the waters. They have said repeatedly that anybody would take opposition research like this, leaving out the fact that it's objectionable only because it was supposedly coming from the Russian government. They've pointed to the length of the meeting and the claim that no valuable information was obtained, ignoring the fact that Trump Jr. still attempted to get such information. And now they are trying to pin this, at least partially, on the Obama administration.
Update No. 2: The Post's Matt Zapotosky got this response from Lynch's spokesman, Robert Raben: "Attorney General Lynch, as the former head of the Justice Department, does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel. The State Department issues visas, and the Department of Homeland Security oversees entry to the United States at airports."