TrumpWatch, Day 175: Trump — “Maybe” I Was Told of Trump Jr. Meeting with Russian Envoy

Donald and Melania Trump arrive in Paris on Thursday

Trump contradicts White House line that he had no knowledge of June 2016 meeting

Developments on Day 182 of the Trump Administration:

See also Former Soviet Spy Was at Trump Jr.-Kushner-Manafort Meeting
Podcasts: The Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting — Confronting Trump Supporters With Facts

Trump on Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting “Maybe It Was Mentioned”

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to France, Donald Trump contradicts the White House line that he knew nothing about a June 2016 meeting between his top advisors — son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort — with a Russian envoy offering material to damage Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Since news broke on Saturday of the meeting in Trump Tower with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the White House has maintained that Trump — in a nearby — knew nothing of the encounter and only learned it with the publication of the first New York Times article.

But Trump told the reporters on Wednesday that “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point” although he did not know the content, according to Julia Davis of The New York Times:

The White House omitted the remark from its transcript of the conversation. Instead, the transcript had Trump saying, “I only heard about [the meeting] two or three days ago.”

But “two sources familiar with the handling of the matter” said Trump’s legal team was informed more than three weeks ago about Donald Trump Jr.’s e-mail chain setting up the encounter.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that he learned just “a couple of days ago” that Donald Jr. had met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, hoping to receive information that “would incriminate Hillary” and was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A day earlier, on Tuesday, Donald Jr. released the email exchanges himself, after learning they would be published by the New York Times.

Initially, Trump’s staff said all of his remarks were off the record, but they retreated when Trump asked why no articles were appearing about his comments to the journalists.

The subsequent on-the-record transcript included Trump’s insistence that he challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.

Trump said he confronted Putin twice but changed the subject after the Russian President’s flat denial of any influence operations: “What do you do? End up in a fistfight?”:

I said to him, “Were you involved in the meddling with the election?”. He said, “Absolutely not. I was not involved.” He was very strong on it. I then said to him, in a totally different way, “Were you involved with the meddling?” He said, “I was not — absolutely not.”

After the meeting last Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany, Putin said Trump had fully agreed with his statement of no Russian involvement, undercutting the line of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Trump had forcefully challenged the Russian President.

Trump offered no denial of the account by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the time or at point until Wednesday.

On the eve of the meeting with Putin, Trump had denounced US intelligence agencies and again insisted that there was no proof of Russia’s election interference.

In Wednesday’s conversation, Trump maintained that Putin had not declared Trump’s full agreement with his position: “He didn’t say that. No. He said, ‘I think he accepted it, but you’ll have to ask him.’ That’s a big difference.”

Trump then tried the line that the Russian interference might not be plausible because Moscow did not favor his election. He said he had wanted to ask Putin, “Who were you really for?”:

Because I can’t believe that he would have been for me. Me. Strong military, strong borders — he doesn’t care about borders — but strong military. Tremendous.

Trump then again said countries other than Russia could have carried out hacking of computers, including those of the Democratic National Committee. He explained that China and North Korea are also skilled at hacking.

Hawaii Judge Weakens Trump’s “Muslim Ban”

A federal judge in Hawaii has further weakened the diluted Trump “Muslim Ban”, expanding the list of family relationships with US citizens that visa applicants can use for entry.

US District Judge Derrick Watson, who suspended the initial ban in March, ordered the government on Thursday not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of US residents.

“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson concluded. “Indeed grandparents are the epitome of close family members.”

Watson also ruled that the government may not exclude refugees who have formal assurance and promise of placement services from a resettlement agency in the US.

Last month the Supreme Court permitted a limited version of Trump’s revised executive order, while setting hearings and a final ruling for October. It allowed the blocking of visa applicants from six mainly-Muslim countries if they cannot prove a “bona fide” relationship with a US citizen or entity.

The Trump Administration defined “bona fide” relationship as those who had a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling already in the US.

The case reverted to Watson when the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he had the authority to interpret the Supreme Court’s order and block any violation of it.

Trump Scales Back His Wall

Donald Trump reduces his US-Mexican wall from 2,000 miles to less than half that distance.

On his flight to Paris on Wednesday, Trump told reporters:

You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing.

But you’ll need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles.

Trump said it was important that border agents and others should be able to see through the wall so they could be aware of oncoming dangers: “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them. They hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over.”

The border across four US states already has 600 miles of barriers, including fences and walls.

Trump has faced difficulties with his proposal since taking office. He has been unable to get Mexican authorities to pay for the wall, estimated to cost more than $20 billion. The Administration, amid uncertainty over its domestic legislation and its budget, has only asked Congress for $1.6 billion so far.

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