Trump defends son over Russian lawyer meeting

By AFP/Andrew Beatty, Adam Plowright   July 14, 2017 | 08:21 am GMT+7
Trump defends son over Russian lawyer meeting
Donald Trump Jr. (L) talks with his father, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio U.S. July 20, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Jim Young/File photo

'He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer.'

President Donald Trump on Thursday defended his son Donald Jr, who is under fire for accepting a meeting with a Moscow lawyer during the U.S. election campaign last year -- talks that have reignited allegations about Russia's role in the vote.

The scandal over the younger Trump's willingness to meet the lawyer has put his father's top aides in legal jeopardy, cast a pall over his efforts to remake the political agenda and may yet imperil his presidency.

But the president stood by Donald Jr during a visit to Paris, in his first public remarks about the scandal.

"My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer," he said.

"From a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting."

Trump earlier suggested he may have known about the meeting, saying "maybe it was mentioned at some point," but nevertheless insisted he did not know what it was about.

Despite the controversy and investigations in Washington over the Trump campaign's alleged ties to the Kremlin, Trump told reporters accompanying him on his flight to France that he would be willing to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House.

Such a visit would have to come "at the right time. I don't think this is the right time, but the answer is yes, I would."

The U.S. president was in Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, with both men talking of a newfound friendship.

Macron rolled out the red carpet, hoping to improve relations and persuade the U.S. president to change his mind about withdrawing from the global Paris agreement on climate change.

Macron said earlier that he had a "strong disagreement" with Trump about the agreement, which the US leader plans to renegotiate.

Trump said cryptically: "Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We'll see what happens."

But the tone of their press conference and warm body language was at odds with broader concerns about the transatlantic relationship since Trump's victory in November last year.

Macron, only 39 years old and elected in May, said he looked forward to a "dinner between friends" later Thursday when he and his wife enjoyed a Michelin-starred meal with the Trumps in a restaurant up the Eiffel Tower.

The U.S. president praised Macron as a "great president", saying "he is going to run this country right."

"The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable," Trump said after talks at the French presidential palace focused on joint US-French efforts to fight terrorism in the Middle East and Africa.

Macron had warned on the eve of Trump's arrival that "the Western world is fracturing since the American election" and that the world order established after World War II was under threat.

Bridge-building

As part of Macron's charm offensive, Trump will be guest of honour during celebrations for France's national day on Friday, which will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War I.

Earlier, Macron gave Trump a personal tour of Napoleon's tomb at the Invalides military complex in central Paris, before the two men headed for talks.

Again the body language was warm, with Trump complimenting Macron's wife and even giving the French leader a lift back to the presidency in his eight-tonne car, known as The Beast.

"You know, you're in such great shape... beautiful," Trump told 64-year-old Brigitte Macron, who was sporting a white Louis Vuitton dress and stiletto heels, during their visit to the tomb.

'Strategy a mystery'

Trump and Macron will watch Friday's Bastille Day military parade together and marking the U.S. entry to World War I in 1917.

More than 50,000 Americans died in what then-president Woodrow Wilson described as the "war to end all wars," a conflict that forged the transatlantic alliance in steel.

However, foreign affairs expert Bertrand Badie of Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP he was very doubtful Macron would be able to influence Trump in the future.

"It's very difficult to play chess with a man whose strategy is a complete mystery and whose only consistency is his pursuit of American national interest," he said.

Nearly 11,000 police officers will be on duty, with France in its highest state of alert after a string of terror attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 300 people.

And in early July, police charged a 23-year-old suspected far-right activist with plotting to assassinate Macron at the Bastille Day parade.