A lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump has defended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer last year during which the president's son had hoped to obtain damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Speaking in a series of interviews on major U.S. television political talk shows on July 16, attorney Jay Sekulow dismissed allegations the president knew of the meeting and deflected questions on its appropriateness.
"The president was not aware about this meeting, did not participate in this meeting. As far as other meetings go, look, the president has said that he was not aware of it, wasn't involved in it. And there's been no indication otherwise," Sekulow, said on CBS News in one of five interviews on the matter.
Trump Jr. disclosed this week that he agreed to meet with Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after he was told she represented the Russian government and had damaging information on Clinton.
The president’s eldest son said he would "love it" if that were the case, and he invited his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, to join the meeting, according to e-mails Trump Jr. released this week.
It was later revealed that other Russian associates, including a Washington lobbyist who served in a Soviet military intelligence unit, were also present at the meeting at Trump Tower in New York City.
The e-mails are seen as potential evidence that Trump's campaign might have been willing to accept Russian help to win the election and are now a major focus of investigations in Congress.
Both Donald Trump Jr. and his father have repeatedly insisted that nothing came out of the meeting.
The president has called the meeting "standard practice" during a political campaign and Sekulow attempted to deflect any blame on Trump by saying that the meeting must have been acceptable since the Secret Service let the entourage into the offices for the meeting.
"I wonder why the Secret Service -- if this was nefarious -- why the Secret Service allowed these people in?" Sekulow told ABC's Jon Karl. "The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me."
But Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump's son and two senior campaign officials.
"Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time," Brayman told Reuters by e-mail in response to a question..
The younger Trump has offered to cooperate with Congress about the matter and would be the first member of the president's inner circle to testify before committees that are investigating alleged Russian interference in the election.
In January, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, with goals including undermining faith in the U.S. democratic system, denigrating Clinton, and improving Trump's chances of winning the presidency in the November 8 vote.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP