President Donald Trump’s lawyer told ABC on Sunday morning that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last June with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin was innocent because if it weren’t, the Secret Service would not have let the guests meet with top members of the Trump campaign.
“I wonder why the Secret Service — if this was nefarious — why the Secret Service allowed these people in?” Sekulow told ABC’s Jon Karl. “The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”
The Secret Service confirmed on Sunday that Trump Jr. was not under its protection on June 9, 2016, when Trump Jr., his father’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner met with the Russians at Trump Tower. Manafort and Kushner were not under Secret Service protection at that point, either, as Think Progress noted on Sunday.
Sekulow’s comments about the Secret Service garnered widespread attention, and raised questions about whether Trump himself was present, or near, the meeting he claimed to only have learned about last week. Emails released by Trump Jr. last Tuesday revealed he was offered dirt on Hillary Clinton by a “Russian government attorney” who wanted to meet with him to discuss it further. Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting, replying, “I love it.”
According to media reports from that time, Trump was at Trump Tower at 4 p.m. while the meeting was taking place in his son’s office. The only public event the then-candidate attended that day was a fundraising lunch for the Trump Victory Fund, CNN reported, and he was back at Trump Tower by 1 p.m.
Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who since at least last year has been working with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to overturn a US law sanctioning Russians, confirmed his participation in the meeting to the Associated Press on Friday. He said that Trump Jr. asked Veselnitskaya for information on illicit money flowing into the Democratic National Committee but that Veselnitskaya had nothing substantive to provide.
In a later interview with Yahoo, however, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya left documents with Trump Jr. at his office. Akhmetshin said he thought the documents related to the alleged money flow, but that he couldn’t be sure because he “didn’t prepare the document.”
The meeting lasted “15 to 20 minutes,” according to Sekulow. Trump Jr. had said it lasted about half an hour. Either way, at 4:40, roughly 40 minutes after the meeting began, Trump began tweeting about Clinton’s emails.
“Where are your 33,000 emails that you deleted?” Trump tweeted in response to a quip from Clinton.
Trump and his surrogates have insisted the president did not learn of the meeting until last week. But his legal team knew about it at least three weeks ago, according to Yahoo, when Jared Kushner’s lawyers informed them of the email chain. The chain, which was forwarded to Kushner, prompted him to amend his security clearance form — for the second time — on June 21.
Trump Jr. has said the meeting was inconsequential and a waste of time. But Sekulow’s comment about the Secret Service, and Trump’s reported presence at Trump Tower while the meeting was taking place, raise questions about how plausible it is that his son, campaign manager, and son-in-law never told him about it.
That is especially true given Trump’s hands-on approach to all aspects of his business empire, biographer Tim O’Brien has noted. According to a former business associate, Jody Kriss, “Donald [Sr.] was always in charge.”
“Donald had to agree to every term of every deal and had to sign off on everything,” Kriss, who worked with the real-estate company Bayrock before leaving because he was convinced it was a money laundering front, told O’Brien last month. “Nothing happened unless he said it was ok to do it. Even if Donald Jr., shook your hand on a deal, he came back downstairs to renegotiate if his father told him to.”