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Back at the White House, Trump administration fends off questions on Kushner, Germany

May 30, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Even after two weeks since the last on-camera White House briefing, the main topic was the same: the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign, specifically reports that Jared Kushner sought to set up a direct line to Russia's President Putin outside normal diplomatic channels. Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted about fake news and criticism of Germany. John Yang reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: From the outside, it appears the Trump White House has spent this day fending off questions about ties to Russia, relations with Germany, and staff shakeups, all of this as the president tries to move ahead amid the turmoil.

John Yang has our report.

JOHN YANG: It was the first on-camera White House briefing in more than two weeks, but topic A was still the Russian connection. Press Secretary Sean Spicer brushed aside reports that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner met the Russian ambassador in December, seeking to set up a direct line to Russian President Vladimir Putin outside normal diplomatic channels.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: I think that assumes a lot, and I would just say that Mr. Kushner’s attorney has said that Mr. Kushner has volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings and he will do the same if he’s contacted or connected with any other inquiry.

JOHN YANG: The New York Times reported investigators are also looking into a meeting Kushner held with the head of a state-owned Russian bank that is under U.S. sanctions. And CNN reported that, during the presidential campaign, U.S. intelligence intercepted Russian officials, saying they had potentially derogatory financial information about Mr. Trump and some top aides.

This morning, the president tweeted: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. and how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news.”

Now back home, after his first overseas trip, Mr. Trump traded tough words today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After the two met at European summits, the German leader said, “We in Europe have to take our fate into our own hands.”

In turn, the president tweeted: “We have a massive trade deficit with Germany. Plus, they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. This will change.”

Today, Spicer insisted the leaders’ relationship is unbelievable.

SEAN SPICER: They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continued to grow the bond they had during their talks in the G7.

JOHN YANG: All this comes amid rumblings of a staff shakeup. White House communications director Michael Dubke has quit after only three months on the job, and the White House may set up a rapid-response war room to deal with the Russia investigations.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will take a closer look at how all this affects work at the White House later in the program.

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