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Trump legal team distances president from son’s meeting with Russian lawyer

July 12, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
How do the bombshell revelations in Donald Trump Jr.'s emails affect the Russia investigation? That was the big question across Capitol Hill, after it was revealed the president's son tried to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton, provided by the Russian government. John Yang reports on how lawmakers and others are responding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump is heading back to Europe tonight, this time to France, for its independence, or Bastille Day, celebrations.

But he leaves behind a swirl over his son’s efforts to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton, provided by the Russian government.

John Yang begins our coverage.

JOHN YANG: Across Capitol Hill, the big question was what the bombshell revelations in Donald Trump Jr.’s e-mails do to the Russia investigation. At his weekly news conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan did his best to avoid commenting directly.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We have a special counsel that’s doing an investigation over at the Justice Department. We have an investigation here in the House. We have an investigation in the Senate.

I think it’s very important that these professionals in these committees do their jobs, so that we can get to the bottom of all this.

QUESTION: Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the House investigation, didn’t say much either.

Do you have any concerns about what you’re seeing now, the press reports about these meetings that he took with the Russian lawyer?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY, R-Texas: Yes, we’re going to pursue every lead that needs to pursue and every clue that needs to be pursued.

QUESTION: Does this lead need to be pursued?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY: We’re going to pursue every lead that makes sense to pursue.

JOHN YANG: In an interview to be broadcast tomorrow on CBN, President Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t have wanted to help him in the first place.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That’s what Putin doesn’t like about me, and that’s why I say, why would he want me?

JOHN YANG: Last night, Donald Trump Jr. offered his first public defense to FOX News Channel’s Sean Hannity.

DONALD TRUMP JR., Son of Donald Trump: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again, this was before Russia mania. This was before they were building it up in the press. For me, this was opposition research.

JOHN YANG: This morning, Mr. Trump gave his eldest son a rave review: “He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch-hunt in political history.”

At his confirmation hearing to be FBI director, Christopher Wray was pressed on that point. He had a different view of the investigations, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, than the man who nominated him.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I’m asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch-hunt?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI Director Nominee: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch-hunt.

JOHN YANG: Meanwhile, the president’s legal team tried to distance their client from his namesake.

JAY SEKULOW, Attorney For Donald Trump: The president wasn’t aware of the meeting, didn’t participate in the meeting, didn’t attend the meeting and was only made aware of the e-mails — actually, reading the e-mails, seeing the e-mails, was yesterday when they were released.

JOHN YANG: For Mr. Trump, the Russia story has become a burden he cannot escape, no matter how hard he tries. Every time he appears to be moving in a different direction, another disclosure puts it right back front and center.

Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to sympathize.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): Today, I turned on the TV again, and all the Western channels are discussing only this. It is amazing how serious people can make a mountain when there might not even be a molehill.

JOHN YANG: There’s sure to be more discussion next week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee wants former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify about his role.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.