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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump admitted on Sunday that his son met a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in 2016 “to get information on an opponent” but defended it as “totally legal.”

It was Trump’s most direct acknowledgement that the motive for the June 2016 meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival for the presidency.

As he has in the past, Trump insisted in a tweet that he did not know at the time about the meeting between his son Donald Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with links to the Kremlin.

“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!” The meeting has come under intense scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in the Republican’s favour.

The Washington Post reported that Trump has been brooding in private about whether his son unintentionally put himself in legal jeopardy by meeting with Veselnitskaya.

Trump called the report “a complete fabrication.” Donald Jr. initially said in a statement to the New York Times in July 2017 that the meeting was “primarily” about American adoptions of Russian children. The Post has reported that the statement was dictated by the president.

Donald Jr. later admitted he accepted the meeting with Veselnitskaya in hopes of obtaining damaging information on Clinton, but said nothing came of it.

Trump’s lawyers argue that the meeting, in and of itself, violated no laws.

“The question is how will it be illegal? The real question here is, would ... the meeting itself constitute a violation of the law,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Trump would fight any US special counsel subpoena in court

If US President Donald Trump is subpoenaed by a special counsel investigating contacts between the 2016 Trump election campaign and Russia, his lawyers will attempt to quash it in court, one of Trump’s lawyers said on Sunday.

Any legal battle over whether the president can be compelled to testify could go all the way to the US Supreme Court, the lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on ABC’s “This Week” show.

Sekulow also said that Trump has not decided whether he would voluntarily sit for an interview with US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 US election and any possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied allegations by US intelligence agencies that his government meddled and Trump denies collusion, describing the Mueller investigation as a political witch hunt that should be shut down.

Mueller would have the option to issue a subpoena compelling the president to testify if Trump chose not to be interviewed.

Sekulow said that the president had the authority under Article II of the US Constitution to stop any investigation conducted by the Department of Justice. The article enumerates the powers of the executive branch of the federal government.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2018