Trump in Paris defends son’s meeting with Russian lawyer
President Trump on Thursday again defended the decision by his eldest son, Donald Jr., to meet with a Russian lawyer to get derogatory information about Hillary Clinton during last year’s presidential campaign, saying that “most people would have taken that meeting.”
Separately, the president significantly scaled back one of the central promises of his campaign, telling reporters that there is no need for a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.
Trump also said he would personally decide the future of the Obama administration program that shields from deportation some 750,000 so-called Dreamers, young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. His statement appeared to close off the possibility, touted by some officials, that subordinates could kill off the program without Trump’s direct involvement.
The developments came during a hastily planned visit to Paris in which Emmanuel Macron, the recently elected French president, assiduously wooed Trump with pomp, pageantry and a playing down of issues on which he disagrees with the American leader he called “dear Donald,” notably climate change.
The French president’s warm embrace of Trump came as a welcome change for a White House that has been beleaguered of late, most recently because of Donald Trump Jr.’s release of emails surrounding his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The emails showed that the friend of Trump Jr.’s who arranged the meeting had described Veselnitskaya to him as a “Russian government attorney” who had “official documents and information” that would “incriminate” Clinton and “be very useful to your father.”
Her information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the emails said.
The emails were the most concrete evidence to date that senior officials in Trump’s campaign had knowledge of Russian efforts to interfere in the election. His son went to the meeting with Veselnitskaya along with Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a wide-ranging effort to sway the election in Trump’s favor. That effort, and any evidence that people close to Trump potentially collaborated in it, forms the center of a criminal investigation headed by a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, Christopher Wray, said Wednesday during his confirmation hearing that any person offered information from a foreign entity about a political opponent should call the FBI.
Asked about that at a news conference with Macron, Trump praised Wray but asserted that his son had done nothing wrong. Obtaining what he referred to as “opposition research” is “very standard in politics,” Trump said.
In the news conference, Trump twice referred to his son as a “young man” — at 39, he is 10 days younger than Macron — and insisted that “nothing happened from the meeting, zero happened.”
“The press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do,” he said.
Political operatives in both parties have disputed that, saying that taking information from a foreign government to use in a political campaign would be highly unusual. Doing so may also violate federal law, which prohibits campaigns from taking anything of value from foreigners.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, said Thursday that the panel was seeking to have Trump Jr. appear soon at a public hearing.
Officials from foreign countries have sometimes passed information to groups affiliated with the American political parties. Some Ukrainian officials, for example, shared information with Democratic operatives last year about the Trump campaign manager, Manafort. Typically those countries are U.S. allies rather than adversaries like Russia.
Moreover, Russia’s interference in the U.S. election — as well as elections in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe — is unprecedented in its scope and constitutes a serious threat, U.S. officials of both parties have said.
The news conference was the main public event in a presidential visit to Paris that included much of the pomp and showmanship that Trump delights in, all part of what appeared to be a determined effort by Macron to forge a bond with the U.S. president.
Both presidents appeared intent on conveying a picture of harmony. Macron at one point broke into fluent English to respond to a question about Trump’s relationship with Putin, saying that “it’s important that both of us have direct discussions and contact” with the Russian leader.
And Trump, asked about remarks he made earlier this year in which he said Paris was unsafe because France’s softness on immigration left it vulnerable to terrorism, said that the situation had changed with Macron’s election.
“You have a great president,” he said, “a tough president,” who is “not going to be easy on people that are breaking the laws.”
“You’re going to have a very, very peaceful and beautiful Paris,” Trump said, adding that he planned to return.
“And you’re always welcome,” Macron responded.
The news conference came after Trump and Macron met for about an hour at the presidential palace. The two discussed trade, the wars in Syria and Iraq and fighting terrorism, Macron said. They agreed to put new pressure on Internet companies to restrict propaganda by Islamic State and other extremist groups, he said.
Trump also said that his administration and Russia were trying to work out a second cease-fire in Syria to supplement one they agreed to last week that covers a small section of the southwestern part of that country.
The two also talked about their disagreement over global warming, on which Macron played down earlier criticism of Trump.
Last month, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate, which President Obama helped negotiate in 2015 among nearly 200 countries. Macron and other European leaders strongly opposed Trump’s decision.
Asked about the issue, Macron, speaking through an interpreter, said that the two leaders “have a number of disagreements” but that he understood Trump’s desire to fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw from the agreement and “to save jobs.”
Disagreements on that one issue should “absolutely not” block the U.S. and France from pursuing other topics, he said.
Trump said that they had “briefly hit on the Paris accord” in their talks.
At the news conference, in which each president called on two reporters, Macron took questions from two French journalists, while Trump took one question from an American and one from a reporter from Chinese state television, who asked about Trump’s relationship with China’s president.
Trump’s positions on trade, climate change and immigration have made him deeply unpopular in much of Europe — the White House, for example, has scrapped plans for the president to visit Britain this year, in part because of concerns about street protests.
The president has had notably tense relations with several European leaders, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But Macron, a politician of the center-left who won his election in part by capturing votes from the center-right, appears to have decided to try to establish a closer connection, despite Trump’s fairly open preference during this year’s French election for his opponent, Marine Le Pen, the right-wing nationalist.
The wooing of Trump began two weeks ago, when Macron invited him to watch the Bastille Day parade on Friday, noting that the event this year would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I.
The effort continued with a ceremonial arrival designed to commemorate the long history of alliance between the U.S. and France.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, greeted the president and First Lady Melania Trump at Les Invalides, the site of Napoleon’s tomb and other monuments to the French military.
“Emmanuel, nice to see you. This is so beautiful,” Trump declared as he stepped out of the presidential limousine to a welcome featuring French soldiers, including Republican Guard members wearing their distinctive red-feathered caps.
The ceremonial portion of the day was heavy with French military history, including a tour of the tomb and the nearby burial site of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of the Allied armies in the First World War.
At the end of the tour, Trump complimented the appearance of Macron’s wife, telling the French president that she is “in such good shape … beautiful.”
The fact that Macron is married to an older woman has been much remarked on. She is 64, and their relationship began when she was his high school teacher.
The day ended with the two couples eating dinner together at a restaurant high up in the Eiffel Tower.
On the flight to Paris, Trump spoke to reporters on Air Force One. The conversation was initially off the record — a standard practice on presidential trips in several administrations. Trump later decided to put the remarks on the record.
Among other topics, he scaled back his plans for a border wall.
“You don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers,” Trump said, adding that “700 to 900 miles” would suffice. Some 600 miles of the border is already lined by fences and other barriers.
On the fate of the deportation shield law, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Trump said, “It’s a decision that I make, and it’s a decision that’s very, very hard to make. I really understand the situation now.”
Administration officials who oppose DACA had devised a plan that might have allowed Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to kill the program without Trump’s involvement by refusing to defend it in court. Trump’s remarks appeared to rule out that possibility.
Bennett reported from Paris and Lauter from Washington
3 p.m.: This article was updated with additional detail from an earlier interview Trump gave reporters on Air Force One.
11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with additional detail from the news conference between Trump and Macron.
The article was originally published at 10:15 a.m.
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