Democrats pounce on Trump Jr.

President’s op­po­nents see a po­ten­tial turn­ing point in the Rus­sia in­quiry, and sink­ing polls add to his woes.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura King

WASHINGTON — Dur­ing what would nor­mally be a time of sum­mer dol­drums in Washington, President Trump — fol­low­ing a pomp­filled visit to Paris and a week­end get­away to his New Jersey golf prop­erty — re­turns to a cap­i­tal roiled by the bur­geon­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a fal­ter­ing GOP health­care plan and sink­ing opin­ion polls.

Trump goes back to work af­ter a four-day ab­sence and an­other news cy­cle dom­i­nated by dis­clo­sures stem­ming from last sum­mer’s meet­ing of his el­dest son, a Krem­lin-linked lawyer and at least one other con­tro­ver­sial Rus­sian fig­ure.

In­cluded in that mael­strom were more tweets Sunday by the president re­new­ing his de­fense of Don­ald Trump Jr. in con­nec­tion to that June 2016 meet­ing in Trump Tower. In a se­ries of tweets, Trump re­turned to fa­mil­iar twin themes of at­tack­ing for­mer op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton and cas­ti­gat­ing the news me­dia over its cov­er­age of Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters.

While Trump con­tin­ued his protes­ta­tions, se­nior Democrats said Sunday they be­lieved on­go­ing dis­clo­sures about the meet­ing could prove to be a turn­ing point in the tan­gled, months-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“Only smoke and no fire? That’s clearly been put to rest,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This clearly brings the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to a new level.”

The White House dis­patched a se­nior mem­ber of the president’s per­sonal le­gal de­fense team to the ma­jor Sunday news shows to play down last week’s steady drip of rev­e­la­tions about the meet­ing with lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya, which was also at­tended by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, now a se­nior White House aide.

The tur­moil co­in­cides with two new public opin­ion polls show­ing Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings are plumb­ing depths greater than at this point in any mod­ern pres­i­dency. Trump, who this week will mark six months in of­fice, char­ac­ter­ized the num­bers as “not bad at this time,” even while dis­miss­ing their ac­cu­racy.

And Repub­li­can lead­er­ship in the Se­nate de­layed a vote on the Oba­macare over­haul plan un­til Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) re­cov­ers from surgery to re­move a blood clot. With two Repub­li­can se­na­tors al­ready op­posed to the bill, GOP lead­ers need ev­ery re­main­ing vote in their cau­cus to ad­vance the mea­sure.

In the lat­est chap­ter of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­fend­ers and crit­ics of the president of­fered starkly dif­fer­ing nar­ra­tives about cam­paign con­tacts with still-un­known num­bers of po­ten­tially Krem­lin-as­so­ci­ated fig­ures and what that in­di­cated about al­leged col­lu­sion.

Those clash­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions con­tin­ued a pat­tern of re­cent months, but this time the two sides were both re­fer­ring to pub­licly avail­able source ma­te­rial: emails dis­closed by the president’s son, not char­ac­ter­i­za­tions pro­vided by anony­mous sources.

Warner, speak­ing on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion,” promised to widen the in­quiry, bring­ing in “some of the folks from the Trump dig­i­tal cam­paign” to look into the bar­rage of fal­si­fied news sto­ries that ap­peared on so­cial me­dia users’ news feeds.

Trump for months has de­scribed in­ves­ti­ga­tions of al­leged col­lu­sion be­tween his cam­paign and the Krem­lin as a “Dem hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Af­ter an ini­tial White House-sanc­tioned state­ment sug­gest­ing the meet­ing was mainly about Rus­sian or­phans, the younger Trump ac­knowl­edged in emails re­leased last week that the in­ter­me­di­ary who set up the meet­ing de­scribed Ve­sel­nit­skaya as hav­ing ac­cess to Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion that could be used against Clin­ton. He replied: “I love it.”

In ad­di­tion to Trump Jr. and Kush­ner, the meet­ing was at­tended by Paul Manafort, who at the time was the Trump cam­paign chair­man, and Ri­nat Akhmetshin, a Rus­sian American self-de­scribed lob­by­ist with a re­ported back­ground in Rus­sian coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence.

Warner’s House coun­ter­part, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Bur­bank), said the meet­ing and the cir­cum­stances lead­ing up to it di­rectly estab­lished for the first time the will­ing­ness by Trump’s cam­paign to co­op­er­ate with what the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has con­cluded was a broad Rus­sian ef­fort to tip the elec­tion in his fa­vor.

“They can call it a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion. They can call it a witch hunt. It’s all an aligned mes­sage with the White House,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.” Even so, he said, “real ev­i­dence is com­ing for­ward that just can’t be ig­nored.… This is about as clear of ev­i­dence you could find of in­tent by the cam­paign to col­lude with the Rus­sians.”

The fact that the most strik­ing rev­e­la­tions came in the words of the president’s son made it more dif­fi­cult for the White House to push back against anony­mous sources. Even so, Trump again blamed neg­a­tive cov­er­age for keep­ing what he has termed a base­less con­tro­versy alive.

“Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOC­RACY in our coun­try!” he said in an early-morn­ing tweet from his club in Bed­min­ster, N.J. In an­other Twit­ter state­ment, he said Clin­ton could “il­le­gally get the ques­tions to the De­bate and delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is be­ing scorned by the Fake News Me­dia?”

The tweet re­ferred to a pri­mary de­bate ques­tion that had been pro­vided to the Clin­ton cam­paign and not to her then-ri­val, Sen. Bernie San­ders, and to emails Clin­ton deleted from the pri­vate server she used while serv­ing as sec­re­tary of State. The dis­clo­sure about the de­bate ques­tion was drawn from Rus­sian-hacked elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

A se­nior mem­ber of the president’s le­gal team, Jay Seku­low, tried to dis­tance the president from the af­fair and in­sisted that the 2016 meet­ing did not vi­o­late any crim­i­nal laws.

“I know this: He, the president, was not aware about this meet­ing, did not par­tic­i­pate in this meet­ing,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.” On CNN’s “State of the Union,” he sug­gested that the en­counter had seemed harm­less at the time.

“You’re try­ing to put a moral, eth­i­cal as­pect to it,” he com­plained to in­ter­viewer Jake Tap­per. “And it’s easy to do that in 20/20 hind­sight, but not when you’re in the mid­dle of a cam­paign.”

And on “Fox News Sunday,” Seku­low said he saw no rea­son to doubt the president’s state­ment that he had learned of the meet­ing only days ago. Democrats have ques­tioned how the meet­ing could have been kept from the president for so long, par­tic­u­larly as he re­peat­edly de­nied any­one from his cam­paign had strate­gized with Rus­sians.

“I do not think the de­nial by the president of the United States is sus­pect at all,” Seku­low said.

The new polling re­leased Sunday con­firmed how deep the hole is that Trump finds him­self in six months into his pres­i­dency, but also of­fered some warn­ings to his Demo­cratic op­po­nents.

A Washington Post-ABC News sur­vey found that 58% of Amer­i­cans dis­ap­proved of Trump’s per­for­mance in of­fice and that 36% ap­proved of his per­for­mance.

That’s a sig­nif­i­cantly worse grade than the public has given any president at this point in his ten­ure since mod­ern polling be­gan in the 1940s.

There’s no ev­i­dence that the 2016 Trump Jr. meet­ing has af­fected the president’s stand­ing so far, although the poll did find that 63% of Amer­i­cans thought it was “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and that 26% said it was ap­pro­pri­ate.

The poll showed a slide in Trump’s stand­ing since the sur­vey was last taken in April. Many other polls in the in­ter­ven­ing weeks have doc­u­mented that drop.

Most of the de­cline ap­pears to have taken place in early May — around the time that Trump fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey and the House passed its Repub­li­can health­care bill, which is ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar.

But the poll of­fers some po­ten­tial good news for the president: He has largely kept sup­port within his own party.

While Democrats and in­de­pen­dents dis­ap­proved of Trump’s per­for­mance by large mar­gins, those who iden­ti­fied them­selves as Repub­li­cans con­tin­ued to ap­prove, 82% to 15%.

That could give Trump a base on which to re­build.

The president also could ben­e­fit from the Democrats’ fail­ure so far to con­vince the public that they stand for some­thing other than op­po­si­tion to Trump. In the PostABC poll, 37% said the Democrats stood for some­thing, and 52% said they just op­posed Trump.

Sep­a­rately, a new NBC/ Wall St. Jour­nal sur­vey that looked at coun­ties Trump car­ried in 2016 found that 50% of adults in those ar­eas now ap­proved of Trump. That level is sig­nif­i­cantly be­low Trump’s show­ing in those coun­ties in the elec­tion, which av­er­aged about 60%. The two num­bers are not en­tirely com­pa­ra­ble, but the fig­ure sug­gests some weak­en­ing of Trump’s back­ing in the places cru­cial to his vic­tory.

The Washington PostABC poll was con­ducted July 10 to 13 among 1,001 adults na­tion­wide. The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror is 3.5 per­cent­age points in ei­ther di­rec­tion. The NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal sur­vey was con­ducted July 8 to 12 among 600 adults in the tar­geted coun­ties. The mar­gin of er­ror for the full sam­ple is 4 per­cent­age points.

Carolyn Kaster As­so­ci­ated Press

PEO­PLE cheer President Trump at the U.S. Women’s Open at his golf club in Bed­min­ster, N.J., on Satur­day. De­fend­ing his old­est son, Trump tweeted: “Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOC­RACY in our coun­try!”

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