Trump refuses to condemn son’s Russian meetings

The president told Reuters that he hadn’t heard about the contacts with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya until just days ago

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Paris.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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WASHINGTON // United States president Donald Trump claimed that the first time he had heard of his son, Donald Jr, meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed she had politically troublesome information on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was a few days ago.

“No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” Trump said.

The president also told Reuters in a White House interview recorded on Wednesday that he had didn’t think that his son had done anything wrong by having the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year, right in the middle of the presidential race.

"I think many people would have held that meeting," he said, saying that in the heat of a campaign where the Republican candidate was making a virtue of his own outsider status it was sort of thing that could.

Trump Jr had convened the meeting with alacrity after he had been told that the woman, who worked for the Russian government as a legal counsel, might have emails that provided evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton.

Emails released by Trump Jr himself on Tuesday appeared to show that the president’s son knew the emails came with caveat that the Russian government was supporting his father’s candidacy, and that meeting with Veselnitskaya was a potential hostage to fortune.

The emails from Trump Jr now appear to form concrete evidence that the Trump campaign was willing to accept the help of a foreign state viewed with distrust by most members of Washington’s bureacracy.

The spectre of Russian influence on last November’s election has hung over the presidency since Trump was inaugurated in January and has 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."

But his father appeared to double down, saying that he had asked Russian president Vladimir Putin if he was involved in meddling in the presidential campaign during a two-hour meeting with at last week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, and that Putin had insisted he was not.

"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.

Pushed on whether the Russian could be believed, the president said: “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."