‘That’s pol­i­tics,’ Trump tweets

Pres­i­dent again de­fends son’s 2016 meet­ing with Rus­sian lawyer

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Mag­gie Haber­man of The New York Times; by Ilya Arkhipov of Bloomberg News; and by Mary Clare Jalonick of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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.

RUS­SIAN COM­POUND

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.

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