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Politics & Government

Trump Defends Donald Trump Jr.'s Meeting With Russian Lawyer

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

To talk more about the political news of the day, we are joined now by NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson. Hello there.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So this was the first time the president has spoken publicly about his son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian government lawyer. What did we learn today?

LIASSON: We learned that the president's defense is pretty well set. He doesn't see anything wrong in his son taking the meeting. As he said, many people would have done that. It was just opposition research. It's just politics. Politics is a dirty business, very standard. He said, you take the meeting; you take the info.

The interesting thing is this was in contradiction to his own FBI director nominee, Chris Wray, who said in his confirmation hearings that if something like this happens, you should call the FBI. It was in contradiction to many opposition researchers who say they would never have taken a meeting with a hostile - a representative of a hostile foreign power. And it contradicts his own son, who said he would have handled this matter differently in retrospect. What's interesting is Donald Trump did not call this fake news. He didn't call it a hoax. He can't because it came from Don Jr.'s own emails.

MCEVERS: Right.

LIASSON: And what was interesting is how defensive the president was today. Even though he has said many people would have done the same thing, he also said that nothing came of it. It was a very short meeting. Jared Kushner left after 10 minutes. He told reporters on Air Force One that Paul Manafort, who was also in the meeting, was playing with his iPhone the whole time. And he even repeated a Fox News story that somehow Loretta Lynch was to blame for the Russian lawyer being in the U.S. because apparently her visa had expired. But in fact the State Department issues visa, and the Department of Homeland Security would have handled an extension.

MCEVERS: It was unusual for the president to return to Europe so quickly after the G-20 meeting. Now, I mean that was less than a week ago. Why did he go back to Europe so soon?

LIASSON: He got an invitation. But it was unusual. And the meeting was quite a contrast to that G-20 meeting where the U.S. and Trump was really the odd man out, especially on climate. Today, as you heard in Scott's piece, he was asked about the Paris accord, whether he could change his mind. He said, maybe something could happen; we'll keep talking.

Now, that doesn't mean he really will change his mind. But he noticeably did not repeat any of the confrontational rhetoric about Paris and globalism that he had used when he pulled out of the united - of the accord. So maybe that fine French welcome with all the wining and dining and military parades is having the effect that Macron wants.

MCEVERS: So President Trump will be on his way home soon where Senate Republicans are struggling with a health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Does President Trump play a role in getting this bill over the finish line?

LIASSON: He does, but it's a very low-profile one. He hasn't given a single public speech explaining why the Republican plan would be better than the Affordable Care Act. Right now there are two hard noes against the bill. If Mitch McConnell can hold the line there, the bill will pass. But one more no, and it's over.

And right now, most of the Republican political people I talk to say that the price of failure for Republicans on this one, the price of not passing something is so huge - because their base will be demoralized - that it's better to pass even an extraordinarily unpopular bill rather than go home emptyhanded after promising for seven years that if only you had the House and the Senate and the White House, Republicans would deliver on an Obamacare repeal. So that's the message that the president and Mitch McConnell are selling to their members.

MCEVERS: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.