Donald Trump denied that he was unaware of his son’s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer at the heart of the latest White House controversy, telling Reuters he only learned of it a couple of days ago. “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this” Trump said in a Reuters White House interview when asked if he knew that his son was meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year.
The president also said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting. “I think many people would have held that meeting” he said in his first “extensive, in-person reaction to the meeting, which has sent shockwaves through the White House.”
On Tuesday night, Trump Jr. said in an interview with Sean Hannity that he might have handled the encounter differently but said he did nothing wrong. He offered to testify under oath before Congress to that effect. The president praised his son’s performance in a Wednesday morning tweet.
“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” Trump tweeted.
In Wednesday’s interview, Trump also said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
“I said, did you do it? And he said no, I did not. Absolutely not. I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
Asked if he believed Putin’s denial, Trump paused.
“Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is,” he said.
About Putin he added: “Somebody did say if he did do it you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.”
When asked if he could trust Putin, Trump responded that the Russian president and Chinese President Xi Jinping both look out for their country’s interests, as he looks out for U.S. interests. “I am not a person who goes around trusting lots of people. But he’s the leader of Russia. It is the second most powerful nuclear power on earth. I am the leader of the United States. I love my country. He loves his country,” Trump said.
Repeating what he has said in the past, Trump said there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. “There was zero coordination. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. A Republican, Trump said Democrats had used the accusations to justify Clinton’s loss in November, saying: “The White House is functioning beautifully despite the hoax made up by the Democrats.”
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Much of the above is a rehash of what Trump has already said before, but there was one new revelation:
Although he and Putin were able to forge a ceasefire agreement in part of Syria, Trump said their interests collided over other issues. He said his U.S. military buildup and drive to increase U.S. energy production were in direct conflict with Putin, whose nation is dependent on energy exports.
Their differences made him wonder whether Putin really had supported him last year, as many news reports have suggested.
“It’s really the one question I wish I would have asked Putin: Were you actually supporting me?”
All of the above may now be moot: as discussed earlier, based on a report from the WSJ, Trump Jr’s email has given investigators just the excuse to delve into every and any NSA intercept, from as far back as you want to go, in hopes of finding yet another, this time impeachable “smoking gun”, one which does not have to do with either Russia or Putin. Ironically, it may be Trump’s alleged aversion to communicating by email that has prevented one from emerging already.