White House officials were skeptical of having Dunn’s parents and Sacoolas in the West Wing at the same time, but Trump was keen on having a “hug and make up moment,” according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
Trump believed he could solve the problem, the official said.
Appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday, Dunn’s parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, described the meeting, explaining that they had no idea they were meeting with the president and had been invited to the White House to meet with “a senior official.”
Dunn’s parents say Trump offered his condolences before quickly alerting them that Sacoolas was in the building. “It took your breath away when he mentioned it the first time,” Dunn’s father said.
The British government was scrambling to learn what happened in the White House and was not aware that Trump was going to pull such a move, a senior official said. There was initial trepidation, this person said, about even having the meeting.
Trump said that Boris Johnson asked him to set up the meeting.
With no prior knowledge that a meeting had been set up, Dunn’s parents declined to participate, saying that a meeting should take place on British soil and at a time when they felt more prepared.
“We’ve said all along we are willing to meet her, but it has to be with therapists and mediators. And that’s not just for us; it’s for her as well,” said Charles, the mother. “To be thrown into a room together with no prior warning, that’s not good for her mental health, and it’s certainly not good for ours.”
“There was a bit of pressure, but we stuck to our guns,” added Dunn, the father, explaining that Trump asked them two or three times to meet with Sacoolas.
Trump said he met with the family in the Oval Office and thought they would want to meet the driver. “I offered to bring the person in question in and they weren’t ready for it,” Trump said. The president said that accidents like that happen because of the difference on which sides of the road people drive. “That happens to a lot of people by the way,” he said.
In another televised interview with “Good Morning Britain” on Wednesday, Charles explained how the president took her hand and agreed with her when she said to him, “If this was your son, surely you would be doing the same thing, you’d be trying to get justice for him.”
“He said, ‘Yes, yes, I would,’ ” she said, adding that Trump then said he would try to look at the case “from another angle,” though Dunn’s parents say they are unsure as to what that means.
Trump previously called Dunn’s death a “terrible accident” and said driving on the wrong side of the road “happens.”
In remarks last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “I hope that Anne Sacoolas will come back and will engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country.”
The Dunn case has triggered widespread controversy in Britain and thrust the concept of diplomatic immunity under the spotlight, triggering a debate about whom it should protect and what exactly it should cover. In recent weeks, Dunn’s parents have campaigned both at home and more recently in the United States to have Sacoolas cooperate with the British legal system.
“We promised Harry as a family when we lost him that night that we would make sure justice was done,” Charles said in remarks earlier this week.
Josh Dawsey in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.