By Ken Bredemeier and Michael Bowman
U.S. President Donald Trump is defending his eldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer last year in which he thought he would be given incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump’s challenger in the 2016 election.
“I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said Thursday of Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to talk with the lawyer after being told by an intermediary that she was a Russian government attorney and would offer him material as part of Moscow’s election support of Trump.
“It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. That’s very standard in politics; politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information,” Trump said as he stood alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at a Paris news conference.
Trump, who is facing months of investigations in the U.S. about his aides’ contacts with Russians during his run to the White House, said, “Nothing happened from the meeting, zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people will do.
“As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man,” Trump said. “He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting, it was a meeting that went very, very quickly; very fast.”
Trump was asked whether he agreed with Christopher Wray, his nominee to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that his son should have called FBI investigators when offered the meeting because it was supposedly coming from a foreign adversary, Russia. Trump deflected the question and simply praised his appointment of Wray.
In Washington, Senator Charles Grassley, a key lawmaker investigating Russia’s meddling in the election, sent a letter to the younger Trump asking him to testify about his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Donald Trump Jr. has said he is willing to testify voluntarily, but Grassley said he would be subpoenaed if need be.
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said no questions would be off limits as the panel investigates what the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was Moscow’s election interference personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons said, “I look forward to asking Donald Trump Jr. what the heck he was thinking in embracing a meeting with someone who said they were representing one of our foremost adversaries in the world?”
Grassley’s committee is one of several congressional panels investigating the Trump campaign’s links with Russia, while Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, is heading a criminal probe into the election interference and whether the president obstructed justice by firing another FBI director, James Comey, while he was heading the Russia probe before Mueller took over.
The leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, urged the younger Trump to honor Grassley’s request that he testify.
“I think any witness who’s been asked to testify in Congress should do that,” Ryan said.