Secret Service denies involvement before Trump Jr. meeting

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secret Service on Sunday denied a suggestion from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer that it had vetted a meeting between the president’s son and Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign.

Donald Trump Jr. has acknowledged he met in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was told she might have damaging information about his father’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“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 the president’s legal team, said on Sunday on the ABC news program “This Week.”

In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow’s comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump’s son and two senior campaign officials.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. last week, he eagerly agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, who he was told was a Russian government lawyer. Veselnitskaya has said she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.

On Friday, NBC News reported that a lobbyist who was once a Soviet counterintelligence 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.

Trump himself has said he was unaware of the meeting until a few days ago.

Trump renewed his attacks on the media early Sunday, hours after news that his campaign paid $50,000 in late June to the law firm later revealed to be representing Trump Jr. in the matter of the 2016 meeting.

“With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country,” Trump wrote.

Separately, an ABC/Washington Post poll released Sunday showed Trump’s approval rating at the six-month mark of his term at 36 percent, down 6 points from a survey taken after his first 100 days.

About 63 percent of those polled said it was inappropriate for Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort to have met with a Russian lawyer offering information on Clinton. Sixty percent said Russia tried to influence the campaign, and among those who say so, 67 percent said Trump aides helped.

The president defended his son, writing that “Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?”

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