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In Paris, Trump Defends Son's Meeting With Russian Lawyer

President Trump has joined French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day.
Markus Schreiber

Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET

President Trump once again defended his son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer in the midst of last year's presidential campaign, saying that his eldest son is a "wonderful young man" and that the meeting was one "most people in politics would have taken."

Trump's remarks came during a news conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron while Trump is visiting the longtime U.S. ally as part of France's Bastille Day celebration.

Trump said that his eldest son's June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who Trump Jr. had been told had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton, was for opposition research and that "it's very standard in politics."

"Politics is not the nicest business in the world," the president said, "but it's very standard where they have information and you take the information." Trump added that "zero happened from the meeting" and that "the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do."

Trump's latest comments set off another round of chatter among the political class online — especially on Twitter. Many in the political world disagree that meeting a foreign national, especially one ostensibly representing a hostile state such as Russia, is within the normal course of compiling opposition research. After Trump's remarks Thursday in Paris, Claremont McKenna political science professor Jack Pitney tweeted that when he did opposition research at the Republican National Committee, if he had "taken such a meeting, my boss would have fired me & called the FBI."

Trump was asked about his son's meeting a day after Christopher Wray, his nominee to head the FBI, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing that he would advise politicians that "any threat or effort to interfere with our election from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know."

At the press conference with the international media, Trump said he "had done a great service to the country" by nominating Wray.

The conference came after a meeting in which Trump and Macron discussed a range of issues, including strengthening security cooperation and trade.

Trump lavished praise on Macron, at one point putting his arm on the French president. "We have a very good relationship, a good friendship," he said, calling Macron "a great president" and "tough." Responding to a question about terrorism in France, Trump said Macron would not be "easy on people who are breaking the law." Looking at his French counterpart, Trump added: "You better do a good job, please. Otherwise, you're going to make me look bad."

On climate change, Macron said that it was an area where the two nations "have a number of disagreements" but that he remains extremely attached to the framework of the Paris Climate Agreement, which he labeled "a major international breakthrough." Trump indicated he might be open to rejoining the Paris agreement, which the U.S. announced it has withdrawn from. "Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord," Trump said.

"If it happens," he said, "it will be wonderful; if it doesn't, that will be OK too."

The two leaders were asked about their respective nations' relations with Russia. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian intelligence services, acting at Russian President Vladimir Putin's direction, interfered in last year's U.S. presidential election, and Russia is suspected of having been behind a hack of Macron's campaign weeks before France's recent election. In both cases, the Russian government has denied involvement.

Macron, who used a translator at points during the conference, said that France and Russia "have a lot of discrepancies" but that it's a necessity to work together to share information "and to try to build solutions."

Trump pointed to a cease-fire the U.S. and Russia negotiated in a region in Syria and said it was a result of having communication with Putin. He said Washington and Moscow are now working on a second cease-fire in an area he labeled "a very rough part" of Syria.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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