President Donald Trump on Thursday said his eldest son’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign was “very standard.”
“Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard, where they have information and you take information,” Trump said during a joint press conference at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump said “zero happened” as a result of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which he claimed was “a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken” (opposition researchers disagree).
He also blamed former President Barack Obama’s administration for allowing Veselnitskaya into the United States.
“I see that she was in the halls of Congress also. Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Trump said, referring to former attorney general Loretta Lynch. “Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”
The Hill reported late Wednesday, citing court and Justice Department documents and interviews, that the Department of Justice under Obama cleared Veselnitskaya into the U.S. under “extraordinary circumstances” in 2015.
“I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even ‘research into your opponent,'” Trump said. “I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”
Trump said he has “had many people call” with “information.”
“I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or frankly Hillary.’ That’s very standard in politics,” he said.
He called Trump Jr., who is 39 years old, “a wonderful young man” and a “fine person.”
“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” Trump said. “It was a short meeting, it was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast, two other people in the room, I guess one of them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on the meeting.”
Trump Jr. on Tuesday published emails laying out the circumstances of his meeting with Veselnitskaya in June 2016. Trump Jr. attended the meeting after he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort joined the meeting.
Trump on Tuesday said in a statement conveyed by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders that his son was “a high-quality person.”
“I applaud his transparency,” Trump said in a terse statement Sanders read at a briefing.
On Wednesday, Trump told Reuters he “didn’t know” about his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya “until a couple of days ago.”
“I think many people would have held that meeting,” he said.