WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr. on Monday defended his meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign as being like any other opportunity to get dirt on a political rival, tweeting that he “had to listen” to any damaging information offered about Hillary Clinton.
“Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent . . . went nowhere but had to listen,” President Donald Trump’s eldest son posted.
Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, the New York Times first reported.
In a follow-up late Monday, the Times reported that Trump Jr. was told via email before the meeting that the information on Clinton was part of Kremlin efforts to boost his father’s candidacy.
Trump Jr. on Monday retained Manhattan criminal defense attorney Alan Futerfas to represent him in matters concerning investigations into apparent Russian meddling in the election, Futerfas confirmed to Newsday.
Trump Jr. tweeted that he would be “happy” to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee probe into Russia.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was no collusion between Trump Jr. or campaign representatives and the Kremlin to sway the election.
Asked if former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn plotted with the Russians, she said “to her knowledge” he did not.
A spokesman for the president’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, has said Trump was not aware of his son’s meeting.
The face-to-face between Veselnitskaya and Trump surrogates at Trump Tower in June 2016 comes to light as the FBI and Congress probe Russian attempts to throw the election into chaos and whether the Trump campaign played any role.
Huckabee Sanders cast the Trump Jr. meeting as par-for-the-course in politics, noting a Politico report that a Democratic National Committee consultant had met with Ukrainian Embassy officials about ties among Trump, Manafort and Russia.
Trump Jr. said the meeting with Veselnitskaya was a bust because her ulterior motive was to discuss U.S. legislation punishing Kremlin officials for human rights abuses and a retaliatory ban on the American adoption of Russian children.
The president tweeted Monday on a wide range of topics — including the Obamacare-repeal bill before the Senate as well as criticisms of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — but he did not reference his son.
Trump did, however, defend his eldest daughter Ivanka, a senior White House adviser who was criticized for briefly sitting in for him at a meeting of world leaders at the G20 summit.
The president contrasted her portrayal in the news media to what he said would have been the response if Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, had done the same.
“If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!” the president tweeted.
The younger Clinton responded: “Good morning Mr. President. It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not.”
Also Monday, Huckabee Sanders would not say if the president accepted or rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that his government interfered in last year’s election. She referenced past comments by Trump, who said he believes Russians led the hacking efforts but other countries could be the culprit.
“The president heard Putin’s denial and also realized that they had some very important topics they needed to cover, Ukraine, North Korea, Syria, and decided to move on,” she said.