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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Trump defends his son, saying most people would have done the same. 

“Zero happened from the meeting. The press made a big deal about something that really a lot of people would do."

French President Emmanuel Macron winks at President Donald Trump during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Carolyn Kaster/AP
French President Emmanuel Macron winks at President Donald Trump during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Carolyn Kaster/AP

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President Donald Trump said his son was 'a wonderful young man" who did only what most people in politics would do when he met with a Russian lawyer.

“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” the US president said on Thursday after his arrival in Paris for meetings with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. “Zero happened from the meeting. The press made a big deal about something that really a lot of people would do. As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man.”

On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday disclosed email exchanges with a British publicist who brokered the meeting, shortly after his father secured the Republican presidential nomination. Also present at the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya were the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman at the time.

The publicist, Rob Goldstone, described Ms Veselnitskaya as a “Russian government attorney” in the emails and said she had information from the Russian government that could “incriminate” Mr Trump’s campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton. He also described the Russian government as supporting Mr Trump’s election.

The younger Trump forwarded the correspondence to Mr Kushner and Mr Manafort prior to the meeting. The emails portray the three top campaign officials as eager for help from the Russian government in obtaining information about Ms Clinton, contradicting frequent assertions by the Trump camp that there was no contact between his campaign and Russians.

But speaking in Paris, President Trump said his son had done nothing wrong. “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken,” he said.

In an interview on Wednesday, the president said he had learned of his son't meeting only "a couple of days ago." but praised his son's "transparency."

The revelation of the meeting and the email disclosures provides a new focal point for investigations by congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller into whether Mr Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian election interference.

The president has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and questioned the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking and the release of Democratic Party emails during the campaign.

The younger Trump has admitted that in retrospect he probably would have handled the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya differently. But at the time,he saw it as an opportunity to obtain vital information on what he referred to as under-reported scandals that could hurt his father’s opponent. However, the meeting yielded no such information and was " just a wasted 20 minutes."e

But several election law lawyers, Republican campaign operatives and Republican members of Congress said this week there is nothing routine about foreigners meeting with a campaign on such matters.

“If you had a contact with Russia, tell the special counsel about it," said Republican congressman Trey Gowdy. "Don’t wait until The New York Times figures it out!"

Even the president's choice for director of the FBI, former federal prosecutor Christopher Wray,said it was wiser to "let the FBI know" when a foreign power offers information about a political opponent.