By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he did not fault his son Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential election campaign and that he was unaware of the meeting until a few days ago.
Asked if he knew that his son was meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year, the president told Reuters in a White House interview: “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.”
(Transcript highlights: http://reut.rs/2sRVuHc)
Trump Jr. eagerly agreed to meet the woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father’s campaign, according to emails the son released on Tuesday.
Seated at his Oval Office desk, Trump said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting, writing it off as a decision made in the heat of an upstart, non-traditional campaign.
“I think many people would have held that meeting,” Trump said.
“It was a 20-minute meeting, I guess, from what I’m hearing,” Trump said. “Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do that.”
The emails were the most concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials might have been willing to accept Russian help to win the Nov. 8 election, a subject that has cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency and prompted investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and Congress.
Donald Trump Jr., in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, said: “In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”
In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
Asked if he believed Putin’s denial, Trump paused.
“Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is,” he said.
About Putin, he added: “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.”
While U.S. intelligence agencies and even members of Trump’s Cabinet have said Russia meddled in the election, Trump has wavered on the subject, at times suggesting that other actors might have been involved.
Trump equivocated on whether he felt he could trust Putin. He said Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping both look out for their countries’ interests, as he looks out for U.S. interests.
“I am not a person who goes around trusting lots of people. But he’s the leader of Russia. It is the second most powerful nuclear power on earth. I am the leader of the United States. I love my country. He loves his country,” Trump said.
As in the past, Trump said there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
“There was zero coordination. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said.
The Republican president said Democrats had used the accusations to justify Clinton’s loss in November, saying: “The White House is functioning beautifully despite the hoax made up by the Democrats.”
Although he and Putin were able to forge a ceasefire agreement in part of Syria, Trump said their interests collided over other issues. He said his U.S. military buildup and drive to increase U.S. energy production were in direct conflict with Putin, whose nation is dependent on energy exports.
Their differences made him wonder whether Putin really had supported him last year, as many news reports have suggested.
“It’s really the one question I wish I would have asked Putin: Were you actually supporting me?”
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)
USA mystified by ’15 Donald Trumps’ jibe at Rugby World Cup
USA coach Gary Gold said he was mystified by a comment from England's Eddie Jones that the Eagles would play like "15 Donald Trumps" when they meet at the Rugby World Cup.
"I've absolutely no idea what he means by that," Gold said, ahead of Thursday's game in Kobe.
"We're just a team that's really got to focus on our own processes at the moment. We've got to worry about what we do when we get onto the rugby field.
"At this stage, with all due respect, we're not a good enough rugby team to be making comments or answers to questions like that. I don't know what it means."
‘Absolutely disgusting’: Trump slammed for trolling Greta Thunberg climate speech
US President Donald Trump stirred up fresh outrage on social media Monday with a tweet mocking an impassioned speech made by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg at the UN climate summit in New York.
Her voice shaking with emotion in an address that was the defining moment of the summit, Thunberg accused world leaders of betraying her generation by failing to act on rising emissions, repeating the words "how dare you" four times.
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I'm one of the lucky ones," she said. "People are suffering. People are dying."
Pulitzer Prize-winner reveals why the White House thinks Trump’s Ukraine scandal ‘can be spun as positive’
Despite the growing movement for impeachment, advisors to President Donald Trump believe the bombshell reports about soliciting foreign election interference from Ukraine can be "spun as a positive" for the president's 2020 re-election campaign.
Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post, was interviewed about the thinking of Trump's advisors by MSNBC's Steve Kornacki on Monday.
"This is a White House, a Trump White House, that is used to being under siege. There was of course the two-and-a-half-year saga with the Mueller investigation culminating in the Mueller report, Mueller’s testimony recently. There have been a million other controversies, flare-ups, moments when the White House was forced to defend a comment from the president, allegation against the president, these sorts of things," Kornacki noted.