Trump defends son as 'innocent' over Russia link
Trump defends eldest son, says he is the victim of "the greatest witch hunt in political history"
Donald Trump defended his eldest son yesterday, declaring him "innocent" and a victim of the "greatest witch hunt in political history" as he sought to counter the gravest crisis to face his administration so far.
The White House was plunged into what one ally called a "category five hurricane" after Mr Trump Jr was forced to disclose emails. The messages showed he had enthusiastically agreed to meet with a "Russian government lawyer" during last year's election campaign in a bid to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump, who had remained largely silent about the controversy over the last few days, praised his son for a television appearance on Fox News in which he said the meeting had been "a nothing".
The president wrote on Twitter: "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!"
He also endorsed a comment by a Fox News commentator who said: "I believe Don junior is the victim here." Mr Trump also suggested Democrats had "wilfully used Moscow disinformation" to influence the election against him.
It marked an aggressive change of strategy by Mr Trump as the White House sought to protect his son from allegations by Democrats that he may have broken election campaign laws by dealing with a US adversary.
Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, said: "The meeting that took place is not illegal. The president was not at the meeting, was not aware of the meeting, did not participate in the meeting."
The meeting took place on June 9, 2016, with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has denied links to the Kremlin. It was brokered by Rob Goldstone, a British-born music publicist, who suggested there would be "incriminating" and "ultra sensitive" information about Mrs Clinton on offer.
Mr Trump Jr told Fox News the meeting "really went nowhere" and he never told his father about it because there was "nothing to tell". He added: "In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently." Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, was at the meeting but left early, and Paul Manafort, then Mr Trump's campaign manager, was also there.
Democrats in Congress said the emails showed clear collusion with the Russian government. But senior Republicans sought to avoid condemning Mr Trump Jr. Paul Ryan, the Republican House Speaker, deflected questions about the controversy.
Reports from inside the White House suggested Mr Trump had been watching television news and venting his fury about the Russia investigation. Many staff members were said not to want to know anything at all about the saga because they could not afford the expense of hiring lawyers to defend themselves if they became involved.
Following the reports from inside the White House, Mr Trump said: "The White House is functioning perfectly. I have very little time for watching TV."
Meanwhile, Christopher Wray, Mr Trump's nominee to lead the FBI, told a US Senate confirmation hearing he did not consider investigations into Russian interference to be a "witch hunt". He said before taking a meeting like Mr Trump Jr did, it would be "wise to let the FBI know". Mr Wray said he "sure as heck" would make no pledge of loyalty to Mr Trump and would "pull no punches".
In Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, denied Kremlin involvement in the meeting with Mr Trump Jr.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Ms Veselnitskaya was strip-searched at Heathrow Airport on her way to New York, deepening the mystery over her discussion with Mr Trump Jr.
Ms Veselnitskaya, who denies connections to the Kremlin, had complained of being "unjustifiably" detained at the airport on her way to the US to represent a client. Ms Veselnitskaya had been denied a visa but managed to get special permission to enter the US for court hearings defending a well-connected Russian businessman.
However, she was still stopped en route to New York, raising further questions about the suitability for Mr Trump Jr to jump at the chance of meeting her. In a statement filed to court in January 2016 - six months before the meeting in Trump Tower - she said: "I was detained for two hours by Heathrow Airport officials who specifically targeted me on the basis of the parole number that the United States government had assigned to me. During this detention I was unjustifiably subjected to a strip-search, for no apparent reason." (© Daily Telegraph London)