WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his eldest son as a victim caught up in “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history,” in commenting on the meeting Donald Trump Jr. took for Kremlin-gathered dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“He was open, transparent and innocent,” Trump tweeted. “This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”
The president added to Reuters in an interview: “I think many people would have held that meeting.”
Trump had refrained for several days from commenting on the June 2016 face-to-face that Trump Jr. hosted after an intermediary, according to emails released by the son, promised “sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“I love it,” Trump Jr. had responded of the prospect of damaging information on Clinton.
The New York Times first reported Saturday on the Trump Tower meeting among Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The president broke his silence Tuesday with a statement delivered through White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, calling his son a “high-quality person.”
Trump has had limited public events and no public appearances since he returned Saturday from the G-20 summit. He left Wednesday night for Paris.
In response to reporters’ questions about Trump’s schedule, Huckabee Sanders said the president has been conducting meetings with economic, homeland security and religious advisers out of the public eye.
Trump Jr., who has retained a Manhattan-based lawyer on the matter, had said he was expecting to receive “opposition research,” agreed to the meeting before “Russia mania” had gripped the news media and ultimately did not come away with any compromising information on Clinton.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill from both parties have said they expect Trump Jr. will be called to cooperate in probes into Russian meddling in last year’s election. Trump Jr. on Fox News’ “Hannity” said he would be willing to testify under oath.
Huckabee Sanders said the president regards the Russia-related news media attention as a witch hunt because he “knows very specifically any action or inaction” that has taken place.
Trump told Reuters he learned of his son’s meeting only in recent days.
Trump on Wednesday also taped an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.
The preview released by the network did not include any Trump comments on Trump Jr., but showed the president saying he believes Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate in the 2016 election was Clinton.
“So what I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think ‘probably not,’ because when I want a strong military, you know she wouldn’t have spent the money on military,” Trump said.
“We’re going to be exporting energy — he doesn’t want that,” he said. “He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills.”