Disclosures stemming from last summer’s meeting between President Trump’s eldest son, a Kremlin-linked lawyer and at least one other controversial Russian figure could prove to be a turning point in the tangled, months-long probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, senior Democrats said Sunday.
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 president, meanwhile, took to Twitter to renew his defense of Donald Trump Jr. over the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, returning to familiar twin themes of attacking former opponent Hillary Clinton and castigating the news media over coverage of Russia-related matters.
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.
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In a separate tweet, Trump thanked former campaign official Michael Caputo, who told the Associated Press that he appeared before a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee Friday and testified that he "never heard the word Russia" during his time on Trump’s campaign.
Caputo’s appearance, which he said was a voluntary effort to clear his name, came as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible connections to Trump’s campaign.
Trump for months has described investigations of alleged collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin as a “DEM HOAX” and a “witch hunt.”
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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 a senior campaign aide, and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American self-described lobbyist with a reported background in Russian counterintelligence.
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.
— This post contains reporting from the Associated Press
President Trump leaves the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. President Trump acknowledges well-wishers as he arrives at the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J.