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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Trump's Twitter storm in defence of his son

The president hit back at reports of the growing scandal around his son, tweeting: "This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

Donald Trump Jr being interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television programme in New York on July 11, 2017. His father, President Donald Trump defended his son on Wednesday, July 12 after being silent on the matter for days. Richard Drew/AP Photo
Donald Trump Jr being interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television programme in New York on July 11, 2017. His father, President Donald Trump defended his son on Wednesday, July 12 after being silent on the matter for days. Richard Drew/AP Photo

President Donald Trump insisted his embattled eldest son was a victim of “the greatest witch hunt in political history" and innocent of allegations of colluding with Russian government efforts to swing the election.

For days Mr Trump made no comments on social media relating to the case. But on Wednesday he could stay silent no longer, erupting in a characteristic Tweetstorm, hitting back at the growing scandal surrounding Donald Trump Jr.

“My son Donald did a good job last night,” Mr Trump wrote, referring to his son’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. “He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

A day earlier, Mr Trump Jr had published an email chain revealing how he eagerly took up an offer last year to meet a Russian lawyer - who he was told had damaging information on Hillary Clinton - as part of a Kremlin effort to help his father’s campaign.

The e-mails offered the first clear evidence that members of Mr Trump’s team were open to the idea of receiving Russian assistance.

The revelations have also heaped pressure on Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior figure in the White House, who was also present at the meeting.

The result is an administration in chaos and a president questioning the advice of confidants and raging against the news media, according to multiple reports.

“There are plenty of jobs that haven’t been filled,” said one senior Republican. “No one wants them. Why would you?”

But at the same time, party insiders see no sign that the controversy will precipitate the president’s downfall.

Rich Galen, a veteran Republican strategist, said that although the issue was dominating talk in Washington, it was not yet having the sort of impact across heartland America that would lead to Mr Trump’s political demise.

“For members of the House [of Representatives] who have to run for office again next year, they are still waiting for signals from their base that it is time to cut and run from Donald Trump,” he said. “And they are not hearing that yet.”

After holding his fire since the allegations of a meeting with a Kremlin lawyer surfaced earlier this week, Mr Trump was in combative form on Wednesday, returning to his favoured strategy.

He stoked his base with a string of Tweets criticising the media for what he claimed were double standards that allowed Mrs Clinton to avoid scrutiny.

“Remember, when you hear the words 'sources say' from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist,” he wrote.

However, it was his own son who confirmed details of the meeting when he released his e-mails a day earlier.

They showed how he had been contacted by Rob Goldstone, a British pop promoter who represented Emin, the son of a Russian businessman who had worked with the Trump family. He promised information that would be damaging to Mrs Clinton, Mr Trump’s opponent.

It was, he explained, "obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump".

The younger Mr Trump defended himself during an interview on Fox News but acknowledged regret of how he handled the issue.

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” he said. “Again, this is before the Russia mania. This is before they were building it up in the press. For me, this was opposition research.”

Mr Trump Jr attended the meeting in June last year — soon after his father had secured the Republican nomination. But he insisted he learnt no damaging information about Mrs Clinton, describing it as “20 wasted minutes”.

"It was just a nothing,” he said. “There was nothing to tell.”

Within weeks, the Democratic Party accused Russia of attacking its email servers. Ever since then, questions have swirled about whether senior Republican figures knew anything about Russian attempts to swing the outcome of the election.

Russian officials have steadfastly denied any conspiracy. On Wednesday, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrovdemanded to be shown “at least one fact” to support allegations of Moscow's interference with the democratic process.

During a news conference with his counterpart in Brussels, Mr Lavrov said: “I learnt with surprise that a Russian lawyer, a woman, is being blamed and Trump’s son is being blamed for meeting. For me, this is wild. Because when any person speaks to a lawyer, what problem or threat could there be?”

Opponents have claimed Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with any individual linked to an entity that is also an adversary could amount to treason or a breach of federal election laws that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to campaign ING.

However, Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University, said such charges would be difficult to pursue. Instead he said the latest details built up an increasingly damaging picture of Mr Trump’s team.

“The fact is being a chump doesn’t make you a criminal but it is still quite shocking that anyone would go to this meeting,” he said.