WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump continued Thursday to defend his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, characterizing it as standard campaign practice and maintaining that “nothing happened” as a result of the June sit-down.
The remarks in Paris, made in a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, came even though Trump’s own FBI pick said one day earlier that authorities should be advised of campaign meeting requests with foreign individuals and even after Donald Trump Jr. said he would rethink his own conduct in taking it in the first place.
“Most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said. “It’s called opposition research, or research into your opponent.”
Trump Jr. released emails this week from 2016 in which he appeared eager to accept information from the Russian government that could have damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The emails were sent ahead of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended.
Pres. Trump to @CeciliaVega on Trump Jr.’s meeting w/Russian lawyer: “It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly” pic.twitter.com/MiBf4LXMS0
— ABC News (@ABC) July 13, 2017
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday that he would call on Trump Jr. to testify amid investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s election and would subpoena him if necessary. Congressional committees sometimes move to hold those who refuse to answer subpoenas in contempt.
U.S. intelligence agencies have blamed the Russian government for meddling through hacking in last year’s election to benefit Trump and harm Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent. Congressional committees are investigating, as is Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican from Iowa, said he wants Trump Jr. to testify “pretty soon,” and it could be as early as next week. He said he was willing to subpoena him if he refused to testify. He wouldn’t say what he wants to hear from Donald Trump Jr., but said members aren’t restricted “from asking anything they want to ask.” The top Democrat on the committee, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, had also called on Donald Trump Jr. to testify and had discussed possible subpoenas with Grassley.
A lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on whether his client would agree to appear before the committee. A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said the letter hasn’t been sent.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of several congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, has said he would also like to hear from Trump Jr. But the committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, hasn’t said whether the secretive committee will call him in.
In response to calls for him to testify before the intelligence panel, Trump Jr. tweeted Monday that he was “happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know.”
It’s unclear whether Trump Jr. would be as eager to testify before the Judiciary panel, which generally conducts open hearings. The Senate intelligence committee interviews many of its witnesses behind closed doors, though it has held an unusual number of open hearings as part of the Russia probe.
Asked at his weekly news conference about Grassley’s letter and whether Trump Jr. should testify, House Speaker Paul Ryan didn’t object to the move.
“I think any witness who’s been asked to testify before Congress should testify,” Ryan said.
Also Thursday, the Justice Department released a heavily blacked out page from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ security clearance application in response to a government watchdog group’s lawsuit.
The application page asks whether Sessions — a senator before joining the Trump administration — or anyone in his immediate family had contact within the past seven years with a foreign government or its representatives. There’s a “no” listed, but the rest of the answer is blacked out.
The department has already acknowledged that Sessions omitted from his form meetings he had with foreign dignitaries, including the Russian ambassador.
A department spokesman says the FBI agent who helped with the form said those encounters didn’t have to be included as routine contacts as part of Sessions’ Senate duties.
MARY CLARE JALONICK