Facing a frenzy of criticism over emails showing he had sought incriminating information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, Donald Trump Jr. said he would have “done things a little differently” with regards to a 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
In a Tuesday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump Jr. gamely attempted damage control over back-to-back New York Times reports regarding a June 2016 meeting he took with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with alleged ties to the Russian government and its spy agency. The meeting was set up by Bob Goldstone, a publicist who had previously helped broker a deal between President Trump and a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, and who had promised Trump Jr. dirt on the Clinton campaign.
“In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. told Hannity. “Again this is before the Russia mania; this is before they were building this up in the press. For me this was opposition research, they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about, probably under-reported for years, not just during the campaign, so I think I wanted to hear it out. But, really, it went nowhere and it was apparent that wasn’t what the meeting was about.”
“Hannity” proved a comfortable setting for Trump Jr., as its host has served as an informal adviser to the Trump campaign. Trump Jr. was not, for instance, pressed on what exactly he would have done differently.
“I’ve probably met with other people from Russia but certainly not in the context of actual formalized meetings or anything,” Trump Jr. said when asked if he had ever had other undisclosed meetings with Russians. He also added that in June 2016 he was “still way in a learning curve on all of this” and confirmed that he was still willing to testify about his dealings with Russia under oath.
Hannity asked Trump Jr. if he was surprised by the fact the email mentioned “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and Trump Jr. said it didn’t set off any particular alarms and he set up the meeting so as to hear them out. The subject line of the e-mail read “Russia-Clinton-Private and Confidential” and was forwarded to Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and top adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Hannity did not ask why Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner all attended a meeting with an unnamed lawyer. Kushner, now a top White House counselor, neglected to disclose a series of meetings with Russian representatives when applying for his security clearance.
Trump Jr. did not dispute Veselnitskaya’s depiction of the events, which described Trump campaign officials as wanting the information against Clinton “so badly.” The New York Times reported that Veselnitskaya had connections to the Russian government, a link the Kremlin has denied.
“I imagine I did,” said Trump Jr. when asked if he pressed for information.
Trump Jr. also said that he did not tell his father about the meeting because it did not rise to that level of importance.
“It was just a nothing,” Trump Jr. said. “There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn’t have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.”
Hannity opened his show by saying he planned to show journalists the scandals they should be covering. The Fox News and talk radio host has spent much of his programming focusing on how other outlets are covering the Trump presidency. Hannity has also promoted right-wing conspiracy theories surrounding last summer’s murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, to the point Rich’s family asked him to stop after Fox News retracted a report on the death.
But by the time Trump Jr. appeared on Hannity’s show Tuesday, other conservatives had started to come out against his actions. Earlier Tuesday Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer called the actions “incompetence” and said that the Trump campaign was “swindled,” calling the excuses made for Trump. Jr. “pathetic.” The conservative New York Post’s editorial board ran a headline that read “Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot.”
(Cover tile photo: Richard Drew/AP)
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