WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump defended his eldest son in a Sunday morning tweet, insisting that the infamous June 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. took with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton was “totally legal.”
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” the president tweeted. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has claimed that the president knew about, and approved of, that meeting, according to multiple news reports. Trump Jr. has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he couldn’t remember if he told his father about the meeting.
One of Trump’s current attorneys, Jay Sekulow, agreed Sunday with Trump’s tweet during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
“The question is how would it be illegal?” Sekulow said of Trump Jr.’s meeting. “You have to look at what laws, rules, statutes were really broken here.”
Legal experts have often pointed to a possible violation of federal election laws, which ban taking anything of value – which could include information on a political opponent – from a foreign government trying to influence a U.S. election. The Russian attorney at that meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has close ties to the Kremlin.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pressed Sekulow on the attorney’s previous assertions that the president had nothing to do with writing a statement to The New York Times, seeking to explain the Trump Tower meeting on behalf of his son.
That misleading statement, which the White House later admitted was drafted with the president’s help, said the Trump Tower meeting was about a law governing adoptions from Russia rather than a meeting to get negative information about Clinton.
“I had bad information at the time and made a mistake in my statement,” Sekulow said Sunday, noting that he had only been working for Trump a short time when he made the misstatement last year. “I had a lot of information to process. I got that one wrong.”
Sekulow, repeating the recent mantra of Trump’s legal team and of the president himself, said there “has been no evidence at this point of any type of collusion by the president.”
He said that Trump’s legal team is inclined “at this point” to advise Trump not to agree to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
“We have to make a decision based on the law and what’s best for our client,” said Sekulow, adding that it will take time to make that determination.
However, Sekulow said that Trump may ignore his attorneys’ advice.
“The president has been clear that he wants to interview,” he said.
If Trump declines the interview and Mueller subpoenas Trump to testify, it would spark a constitutional fight in the courts, Sekulow said. At that point, he said, Trump’s attorneys would raise what Trump has alleged are Mueller’s “conflicts of interest.”
Sekulow said those include a 2011 “business dispute” between Mueller and the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., over club fees. Sekulow also raised the point that Mueller applied to be FBI director – a job he held under previous administrations – and was turned down before being appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday he believes the president is so busy worrying about allegations of conspiracy and collusion against the Trump campaign that he refuses to concede that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election at all.
“The president can’t distinguish between any allegations of conspiracy against his campaign and the broader problem of Russia continuing to interfere in our elections,” Schiff said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
That’s dangerous, Schiff said, since National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and other top administration officials warned just last week that the Russians are continuing their efforts to influence U.S. voters in this year’s midterm elections.
“Probably the biggest thing that the president could do is confront Moscow to establish some kind of deterrent,” the congressman said. “But, instead, the exact opposite message is being sent and that is: As long as the Russians interfere on Donald Trump’s side in the midterms, (Russian President) Vladimir Putin can count on the president to never call him out.”
Schiff said he believes congressional investigators found evidence of conspiracy and collusion by the Trump campaign, including Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian attorney at Trump Tower. However, he said only Mueller can determine whether the evidence rises to the level of criminal activity that is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”