WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers defended a meeting that the president’s son had with Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign, suggesting the fact that the Secret Service allowed the meeting showed it was not “nefarious.”
“Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me,” Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team, said on Sunday on the ABC news program “This Week.”
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., acknowledged meeting with a Russian lawyer in New York City during the 2016 presidential campaign after he was told she might have damaging information about his father’s rival, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to emails released by Trump Jr. last week, he eagerly agreed to meet the woman, who he was told was a Russian government lawyer. The woman, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.
On Friday, NBC News reported that a lobbyist who was once a Soviet counter-intelligence officer participated in the meeting, which was also attended by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
Sekulow’s comments drew quick criticism, including from Frances Townsend, who advised Republican former president George W. Bush on homeland security.
“Ok let’s try to deflect blame & throw those in @SecretService who protect @POTUS @realDonaldTrump @FLOTUS & family under the bus,” she said on Twitter.
The Secret Service’s mission is to protect the physical safety of the U.S. president. The agency also provides protection for presidential candidates, though its role in vetting people who meet with the candidates is limited to ensuring that they do not pose a physical threat.
A federal special counsel and several congressional panels are investigating allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as potential connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Moscow has denied any interference and the president and Trump Jr. have denied any collusion.
Reporting By Caren Bohan; Editing by Andrea Ricci