‘That’s politics,’ Trump tweets
President again defends son’s 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump on Monday again posted a defense on Twitter of his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised sensitive government information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton, with the president saying it was simply politics as usual.
Trump’s newest tweet
about his eldest son, Donald Jr., and the meeting June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower, described the gathering as routine and something almost anyone in his current line of work would do.
“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent,” Trump posted on his Twitter account just after 10 a.m. Monday. “That’s politics!”
But interviews with politicians by various news outlets have revealed that few elected officials were willing to say they, too, would have taken such a meeting, given how it was described in an email to the younger Trump.
The president’s defensive stance about his son was in keeping with what he has said for a week about the meeting.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was among the Trump officials who attended the meeting. Three Senate Democrats have called on the White House to review and
possibly revoke Kushner’s security clearance, pointing to the meeting.
Kushner disclosed the meeting on his security clearance paperwork, but Democrats have questioned how much he disclosed.
Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Al Franken of Minnesota and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said in a letter to the White House that given the meeting, Kushner’s top access “may pose a danger to this country.”
Trump Jr. met with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in the Trump Tower offices after an acquaintance said she had sensitive and damaging information about Clinton.
He initially told The New York Times that the meeting was about Russian adoptions. A day later, he acknowledged that it had initially been about supposedly harmful information on Clinton, Trump’s rival in the general election.
The meeting was described initially as having five attendees, including Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort. In the days since the meeting was first reported, that number has grown to seven attendees.
The president has insisted he learned of the meeting only a few days before the Times article. His aides helped write his son’s initial statement describing the meeting as they flew back with the president from the Group of 20 summit meeting in Europe.
At 2 a.m. Monday, Dan Scavino Jr., the White House director of social media, used his personal Twitter account to criticize a commentator who had been critical of the situation.
“Watching replay of Sun shows. @EvanSiegfried is a political hack that has absolutely no idea/clue what he is talking about on @FoxNews!”
In addition, former officials in President Barack Obama’s administration are talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week amid an investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.
Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper was interviewed by staff
Monday, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Obama’s former chief of staff, Denis McDonough, will also talk to panel staff this week, as will former national security adviser Susan Rice.
Trump has argued that Rice may have committed a crime when she asked intelligence analysts to disclose the name of a Trump associate mentioned in an intelligence report. Rice has said she did nothing improper.
The source declined to be identified because the meetings are closed.
Clapper testified publicly about the meddling earlier this year. He was part of an extensive review the Obama administration conducted on Russian interference.
Meanwhile, Russia stepped up pressure on the U.S. to return seized diplomatic compounds as Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met in Washington.
The country houses outside New York and Washington must be returned unconditionally after they were taken over by the U.S. “absolutely in breach of international law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. “We continue to hope that our American colleagues will demonstrate political wisdom and political will” to resolve the issue.
Russia has made increasing demands for the issue to be resolved since it was discussed at Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first official meeting, which stretched for more than two hours at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Russia is threatening to retaliate by seizing U.S. Embassy property in Moscow and expelling diplomats. The confrontation is putting Trump in a bind as he seeks to strengthen relations with Putin while also battling investigations in Washington into whether members of his campaign team colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential elections.
The U.S. will commit “daylight robbery” if it fails to return the properties, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters during a visit
to Belarus on Monday. There are “sensible people” in the administration who understand that Obama took the action to try to spoil prospects for Trump to improve relations with Russia, he said.
Putin broke with tradition and refrained from retaliating when Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down the two compounds in December in response to the election hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies blamed on Russia. Trump hailed Putin’s decision at the time on Twitter as a “great move” and said “I always knew he was very smart!”
Nearly six months after Trump took office pledging to repair ties that all but collapsed under Obama, however, Russia’s patience is running out over his failure to reverse the measures.
Putin’s gesture “was an advance to the Trump administration, giving it a wonderful chance to junk the traps laid by Obama,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international relations committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote on Facebook on Friday. “Let’s hope for wisdom, otherwise all the ‘mines’ laid by Obama and his team under the future of Russian-American relations will go off.”
While Putin has been patient until now, measures planned against the U.S. are “so harsh that they will really feel it” if the Washington talks fail, Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on his flagship Sunday program. U.S. embassy officials will be expelled and “for those diplomats and families left behind, conditions will worsen to such an extent that they’ll be able to ask the State Department for bonuses” for working in Russia, he said.
The Trump administration may return the country houses to Russia because “we want to give collaboration, cooperation a chance” in order to secure progress on issues such as resolving the war in Syria, Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, told CNN on Thursday.