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Lawyer for President Says No Laws Broken When Trump Jr. Agreed to Meeting

16 Jul 2017 6:45 pm
By Nick Timiraos 

WASHINGTON -- A lawyer for President Donald Trump said Sunday that no laws were broken when the president's eldest son agreed to a meeting in June 2016 to hear what was described as a Russian government offer of allegedly damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jay Sekulow appeared on all five major Sunday morning news programs to defend the president following a week in which Mr. Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., offered varying accounts of the meeting.

The meeting included a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and a U.S. lobbyist who had served in the Soviet military, Rinat Akhmetshin. Others attending included the Trump campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now a senior White House adviser.

Democrats and some Republicans have said the meeting showed that the Trump campaign knew about the Russian government's desire to influence the election on Mr. Trump's behalf. Mr. Trump and his son have said the meeting was short and that nothing came of it.

"The meeting itself and those proposed discussions would not have been violations of the law," said Mr. Sekulow in an appearance on Fox. "The president was not aware about this meeting, did not participate in this meeting," said Mr. Sekulow on CBS.

Shortly after the younger Mr. Trump began exchanging emails about setting up the meeting in which he believed he would receive damaging information on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government, but before the meeting took place, the elder Mr. Trump gave a campaign speech promising "major" news on Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Trump never gave the speech, but the timing has raised questions of whether Mr. Trump knew about his son's meeting.

Michael Caputo, a former campaign adviser, said Donald Trump Jr. may have made a mistake but that the canceled speech proved nothing. "That's not the only speech that he talked about that did not happen," he said on ABC.

In a series of statements on Twitter on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump expressed unhappiness over the continued focus on the Russia investigation. He asked why there wasn't more attention on his defeated opponent, Mrs. Clinton, and why instead "my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media."

In another statement, he thanked his former campaign adviser, Mr. Caputo, who told the House Intelligence Committee on Friday that he had no contact with the Russians and never heard of anyone in the campaign talking to Russians. "Thank you...for saying so powerfully that there was no Russian collusion in our winning campaign," Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

Mr. Sekulow was asked repeatedly whether agreeing to the meeting with a lawyer described as a representative of a foreign government was a mistake, even if it wasn't illegal.

"It's easy to do that in 20-20 hindsight, but not when you're in the middle of a campaign," said Mr. Sekulow on CNN. Of the younger Mr. Trump, he said on CBS, "If he had to do it all over again, there are things he would do differently."

Mr. Sekulow also said the meeting amounted to routine opposition research by political candidates in both parties. "You know that goes on in campaigns all the time," he said.

Campaign veterans of both parties have strongly disputed that characterization and have said it isn't normal for candidates to accept or seek political assistance from foreign governments. If offered such help, "I would respond in the negative, and I think most candidates would," said Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an appearance on CNN.

Ms. Collins said she hoped the committee would be able to speak with the younger Mr. Trump and anyone who attended or was involved in settling up that meeting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional committees are probing Russian meddling in last fall's election and any potential coordination with the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion and called the probes a "witch hunt."

Democrats said they were troubled by how the younger Mr. Trump's story had continued to change. Earlier this year, he denied any meetings with Russians. After the meeting was first reported, the younger Mr. Trump said it concerned revisiting a 2012 law to sanction Russian officials. Later, he posted emails showing the meeting also concerned obtaining information about Mrs. Clinton.

"They can call it a witch hunt...but, nonetheless, real evidence is coming forward that just can't be ignored," said Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on ABC.

"Donald Trump Jr. did not tell the truth a variety of times," said Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), on CNN.

Mr. Warner said the committee wanted to spend more time reviewing evidence before hearing from the younger Mr. Trump and other participants in the meeting. "These individuals don't seem to disclose everything or don't tell the whole truth until they have evidence put in front of them," he said.

Write to Nick Timiraos at nick.timiraos@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 16, 2017 14:45 ET (18:45 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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