By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was unaware of his son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer at the heart of a White House controversy, telling Reuters he only learned of it a couple of days ago.
Asked if he knew that his son was meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year, Trump said in a White House interview: “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.”
Trump Jr. eagerly agreed to meet the woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father’s presidential election campaign, according to emails the son released on Tuesday.
In the interview, Trump said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting. “I think many people would have held that meeting,” the president said.
The emails were the most concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials welcomed Russian help to win the 2016 election, a subject that has cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency and prompted investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and Congress.
In Wednesday’s interview, Trump also said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
“I said, did you do it? And he said no, I did not. Absolutely not. I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)