Ever since the news broke about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June of last year, the president’s eldest son has insisted that his father knew nothing about it.
President Trump doubled down on this claim during an exclusive interview with Reuters on Wednesday. When asked if he was aware of the meeting, which took place at Trump Tower, and was also attended by Jared Kushner and former campaign aide Paul Manafort, Trump said:
‘No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.’
Trump also said that he didn’t fault his son for meeting with Veselnitskaya in an attempt to obtain compromising information about Hillary Clinton.
‘I think many people would have held that meeting.’
Trump’s statement to Reuters is just the most recent attempt he has made at defending his son for attending the meeting with Veselnitskaya. On Tuesday, he wrote a statement applauding the younger Donald’s transparency on the matter and calling him a “high-quality person.” He also posted a tweet later in the day calling his son a “great person who loves our country.”
During Wednesday’s interview, Trump also attempted to push back against those who are saying that the emails about the meeting are proof that members of his campaign colluded with Russia. He told Reuters that he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin asking whether or not anyone from his country had interfered in the 2016 election.
‘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.’
There are several problems with Trump relying on this narrative as evidence that Russia didn’t have any involvement in the election. First of all, it’s not surprising Putin would deny the accusations. His denial should not automatically be accepted as truth, though, especially since intelligence officials have obtained information that clearly states otherwise.
There’s also the fact that the accounts from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of what happened during Trump’s meeting with Putin contain some pretty important differences.
Following the meeting, Tillerson told the press that he didn’t think the U.S. and Russia would ever reach an agreement about what happened during the election. He also insisted, much like Trump did on Wednesday, that the president repeatedly questioned Putin on the matter.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, said that Trump not only accepted Putin’s “entreaties that Russia did not hack the election and accepts them,” but he also tried to downplay concerns about election interference during the meeting.
It is, of course, in Trump’s and his son’s best interests to insist both that no collusion took place and that Russia did not interfere in the election. However, the president should also understand better than anyone that the truth always comes out eventually. If he did actually know about the meeting, he would be better off coming clean now, rather than continuing to pretend otherwise.
Featured image via Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images.