President Donald Trump proclaimed his eldest son’s innocence on Wednesday, offering the most vigorous defense yet of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Russian government lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“My son Donald did a good job last night,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, praising his son’s Tuesday night interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity. “He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”
He appeared to be rankled by the news coverage, suggesting more than three hours later that his administration is held to a tougher standard than Democrats. “Look what Hillary Clinton may have gotten away with,” he said. “Disgraceful!”
Trump for days had been publicly silent as the heat turned up on his son, who on Tuesday released a June 2016 email chain that shows he was told the meeting could yield “very high level and sensitive information” about Clinton in what was described to him as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” read Trump Jr.’s response, in part.
After days of divergent tweets devoid of Trump Jr. mentions, the president first broke his Twitter silence by teasing his son’s interview late Tuesday.
“My son, Donald, will be interviewed by @seanhannity tonight at 10:00 P.M.,” Trump announced. “He is a great person who loves our country!”
Those were the first words about the controversy to come directly from the president since The New York Times reported the meeting’s existence Saturday. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did, however, read a one-sentence statement earlier Tuesday attributed to the president: “My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency.”
In his interview with Hannity, Trump Jr. conceded he “probably would have done things a little differently,” in retrospect. But he stressed that the meeting occurred “before the Russia mania… before they were building this up in the press.”
He also maintained that his father was unaware of it, as Sanders and Trump Jr.’s attorney have said.
“There was nothing to tell,” he explained to Hannity. “It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.”
Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, has said his client “did nothing wrong,” a sentiment echoed Wednesday by Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, who told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “the meeting itself and what took place” there was not unlawful.
Lawmakers have indicated that Trump Jr. — as well as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who both attended the Trump Tower meeting — will be called in for questioning by congressional committees examining Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, including possible collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading a parallel FBI investigation.
White House aides have been adamant this week that no members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, which the intelligence community concluded meddled in the 2016 election to boost Trump over Clinton.
As of late Monday, according to Futerfas, Trump Jr. had not received any requests from investigative bodies or agencies. But both Trump Jr. and his attorney have signaled a willingness to cooperate with the investigations.
The Times has chronicled Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, a narrative that has evolved dramatically from what was initially thought to be about a meeting largely regarding an adoption program. The newspaper reported Tuesday that a small group of Trump advisers helped craft that message Saturday — and that the president signed off on it — on their flight back to Washington, D.C., from the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
But Trump appeared to insinuate that the newspaper may have fabricated its sources.
“Remember,” he wrote Wednesday, “when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”
POLITICO reported Tuesday that aides in the White House feel blindsided by the Trump Jr. revelations, which continue to emerge as the president capitalizes on his light public schedule to watch TV and fume over coverage.
But Trump claimed Wednesday that his White House is “functioning perfectly” and focused on health care, tax cuts and “many other things.”
Trump has no events scheduled until he leaves for Paris on Wednesday evening. And the president, who likely watched his son’s Fox News interview, was up retweeting a Fox News clip before 6 a.m. Wednesday as well as a “Fox and Friends” video sometime between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., suggesting he was watching his favorite morning show.
Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, is also testifying Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a hearing that’s likely to draw Trump’s attention.
Despite those circumstances, “I have very little time for watching T.V.,” Trump tweeted.