President Donald Trump used a press conference in Paris to offer the clearest indication yet of how the White House is going to spin the growing Donald Trump Jr. email scandal going forward: dismiss, minimize, and deflect.
“I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. “It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent.”
Trump pointedly ignored the damaging email chain between his son and a Kremlin-backed lawyer who explicitly dangled information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” If that sentence weren’t damning enough, the lawyer added the material was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
In the days since Trump Jr. released those emails on Tuesday morning — apparently a preemptive move knowing a New York Times story was about to break regarding the communication — legal scholars have debated whether the contact amounted to collusion or a breach of campaign finance laws.
In today’s press conference, however, Trump avoided any mention of the emails, and focused instead on how little was gained from the meeting itself.
It was a reiteration of the defense Donald Trump Jr. himself had given on Fox News on Tuesday evening. “It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell [my father],” Trump Jr. said on Sean Hannity’s show.
Trump echoed that argument today, insisting that his son’s erstwhile opposition research meeting had amounted to very little, and that the meeting was part of a “very standard” practice in politics — political campaigns search for information on opponents.
“The press made a very big deal over something really a lot of people would do,” he continued.
Trump says what his son did was normal. Legal scholars disagree.
But in fact, as several legal scholars have pointed out over the past few days, and former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter told Vox just yesterday, standard practice would have been to not only decline the meeting, but to report the overture to the FBI.
Many lawmakers seem to agree. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley of Iowa told CNN’s Manu Raju Thursday that he’d like Trump Jr. to testify before his committee and appeared willing to subpoena him if he refused to do so.