President Donald Trump lashed out at the U.S. media Sunday, accusing it of “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY” in its reports on his eldest son’s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer he thought would hand him incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 election.
In a string of Twitter comments from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump defended Donald Trump Jr., who met with Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after being told by an intermediary that she was a Russian government attorney who would offer him information as part of Moscow’s support of Trump to defeat Clinton.
In one tweet, Trump said, “Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?” Trump was referring to emails she deleted from her private computer server while she was secretary of state and to being given a question in advance of one debate she had with a Democratic opponent months before the November national election she lost to Trump.
“With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!” Trump claimed.
The White House Correspondents Association rejected Trump’s attack, saying, “A free and independent press actually is critical to democracy.”
The debate question involving Clinton only came to light because of the hacking of computer files at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, which the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to help Trump.
WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of emails in the weeks ahead of the election, with many of them showing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the Democratic presidential nomination. She has partly blamed her loss on the disclosure of the emails.
In another tweet, Trump thanked a former campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, for his testimony Friday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. Trump said Caputo said “so powerfully” that he knew of no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during his run for the White House.
Trump has been dismissive of numerous investigations into Russian meddling in the election, calling them a “witch hunt” and an excuse by Democrats to explain Clinton’s upset loss. One of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, told ABC News on Sunday that he does not believe the probes will lead to Trump having to testify in the case even though Trump has said he would if necessary.
Last week, on a visit to France for its Bastille Day celebration, Trump at a news conference defended his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya.
“It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent,” Trump said. “That’s very standard in politics; politics is not the nicest business in the world but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.
“Nothing happened from the meeting, zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people will do,” he said. “As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting, it was a meeting that went very, very quickly; very fast.”
The women’s U.S. golf championship is being contested this weekend at Trump’s New Jersey club and the president has watched part of the competition. He thanked “all of the supporters” who cheered him there, saying they “far out-numbered the protesters.”
Trump faces months of controversy over Russian interference in the election, with numerous congressional probes underway, as well as a criminal investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mueller is looking at possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as whether Trump obstructed justice by firing another FBI director, James Comey, who was heading the Russia probe before Mueller took over.