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With glare on Trump's children, political gets personal for president

Criticism faced by Trump Jr has been turned president defensive, protective and relieved

Mark Landler & Maggie Haberman | NYT 

Donald Trump
Donald Trump (left) with his son Donald Trump Jr

In private, Trump sometimes addresses his adult children as “baby,” a term of endearment tinged with a New Yorker’s wisecracking edge. And now that Trump’s babies have been swept into the vortex of his storm-tossed presidency, he is taking it personally.

The fierce criticism of a meeting between Trump’s eldest son, Jr, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016 has left the by turns angry, defensive and protective but ultimately relieved that for now, the worst appears to be over, people who spoke to him said Wednesday.

For Trump, who has faced a barrage of questions about his own dealings with Russia, watching his closest family members come under harsh scrutiny for things they are accused of doing to help his presidential campaign has marked an uncomfortable turn in the foreign entanglement that has shadowed him since he took office in January.

The latest disclosures also focused renewed attention on Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who attended Jr’s meeting last June with the Russian, Natalia Veselnitskaya. And they came on the heels of a much-criticised decision by his daughter Ivanka to sit in her father’s vacated chair at a summit meeting in Germany.

On Wednesday morning, Trump discarded pleas from advisers to avoid wading into the tempest over Jr, and posted a fusillade of tweets defending him. He denounced reports of the meeting — to collect incriminating information about — as part of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history” and even embraced the theory that his son might have been “the victim” in the case.

“He was great,” Trump told people about his son’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program the previous evening.

By midday Wednesday, the mercurial was telling friends and advisers that he believed the situation had improved. “I think this is getting better,” he said to one group of aides, hours before he was set to take off for a trip to France to mark Bastille Day.

The Trump family, friends said, always draws closer under intense pressure. But Trump bridles at the idea that his children, who have not spent years in the public spotlight like him, are now facing unrelenting scrutiny over what he believes to be a manufactured scandal by the news media.

While Donald has been on the firing line, the meeting with Veselnitskaya could arguably be a bigger distraction for Kushner. As a senior adviser to the president, he is involved in several of the administration’s most sensitive foreign-policy issues, from to the Middle East peace process. His involvement in the meeting led reporters to ask the White House whether he still held his security clearance.

Also under scrutiny is how forthcoming Kushner was with his father-in-law about the nature of the June meeting. He met with Trump to discuss the issue, according to advisers to the White House, around the time he updated his federal disclosure form to include Veselnitskaya’s name on a list of foreign contacts that Kushner was required to submit to the FBI to obtain a security clearance.

Kushner supplemented the list of foreign contacts three times, adding more than 100 names, people close to him said.

Kushner played down the significance of the meeting and omitted significant details, according to two people who were briefed on the exchange. They said Kushner informed the that he had met with a Russian foreign national, and that while he had to report the name, it would not cause a problem for the administration.

Another official said Kushner’s assurance to the was based on the fact that nothing came of the June meeting.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump said he had not been told last summer that his son was meeting with a Russian lawyer. “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this,” he said.

Kushner, colleagues say, has kept up a regular work schedule, meeting on Wednesday with Gary D Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, to discuss the administration’s impending moves on trade. He is also in touch with Jason D Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, who is in Israel for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. And next week, he plans to take part in a high-level economic dialogue with

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, are not accompanying Trump to Paris. Instead they plan to attend the annual media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, sponsored by the investment firm Allen & Company. An official said the couple would pay for their own travel and lodgings.

Kushner is expected to cooperate in the next several weeks with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees that are looking into Russia’s intervention in the American election and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign. He will have to devote some time to preparing for those appearances with his team of lawyers.

Colleagues of Kushner said he had remained focused and upbeat despite the drumbeat of negative headlines — a trait they ascribe to his experience dealing with the legal troubles of his father, Charles Kushner, who was convicted of tax evasion and witness tampering.

But even as the White House labors to present a business-as-usual facade, there is evidence that Trump’s family will be drawn deeper into the investigation. Two officials familiar with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation said the panel was now planning to expand its inquiry to include Donald

The officials said Trump’s shifting reasons for the meeting — and his acknowledgment that he was lured by the promise of Russian dirt on — had forced the Senate panel to begin examining his role in the campaign, and any contacts he may have had with Russians.

The first step, officials said, would be for Senate investigators to sit down with Trump. The Senate panel might also request that he turn over emails and financial records from any dealings with Russia, which they have done with other subjects of their investigation.

At the same time, Kushner now looms larger in the Senate investigation, the officials said. Its investigators concluded as early as March that his meetings during the transition with the Russian ambassador and a Russian banker tied to the Kremlin warranted further scrutiny.

For the president, friends said, the pain of seeing his son ensnared in the scandal was real. In part, that is because, of all his children, he has had the most complicated relationship with Donald, who was a teenager when his parents divorced and did not speak to his father for a year.

Friends who have known the Trump family for many years said they believed Jr, in setting up the meeting, was only focused on trying to help — and even impress — his father with information that could help his campaign.

Trump has been equally protective of his other children. After Ivanka came under criticism for taking her father’s seat in Germany, he defended her in a tweet and cited Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “When I left Conference Room for short meetings with Japan and other countries,” he said, “I asked Ivanka to hold the seat. Very standard. Angela M agrees!”

Nobody offered a more passionate defence of Ivanka than Donald

“Look at the attacks on Ivanka,” he told Hannity on Tuesday night. “If she was anyone else’s daughter, she’d be a feminist icon — this incredible, brilliant, well-spoken woman. And they try to belittle her at every chance. It’s really sad.”

“For me as a family member, as her brother, as her older brother, you know you do take it personally and it does make you want to fight back,” he added. “What we are is we are fighters and they don’t take well to that, either, because most people don’t like being called on their stuff.”
© 2017 The New York Times News Service

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