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Donald Trump Jr. Plays Down Russian Lawyer Meeting


President Trump's oldest son went on TV last night to defend his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign. Donald Trump Jr. has released emails showing he accepted the meeting with a woman who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was described as part of the Russian government effort to help his father.

On Fox News, Donald Jr. insisted the meeting amounted to very little, actually, and that he did not tell his father about it because it turned out to be, quote, "a wasted 20 minutes." NPR's Don Gonyea reports on the response of the president and his supporters.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: There was one rare concession from Donald Trump Jr. last night on Fox News. In retrospect, he said, he probably would have done things a little differently when the email came last year requesting a meeting with a Russian attorney. But recall, he said, that candidate Trump had just clinched the nomination, the convention was approaching and big challenges remained.

Here's audio courtesy of Fox News Channel's "Hannity."


DONALD TRUMP JR: Things are going a million miles an hour again. And, hey, wait a minute, I've heard about all of these things but maybe this is something. I should hear him out.

GONYEA: By this he means at least hear the dirt the Russians may have on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Of course, today, investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia are a major ongoing story. But back then, even though the emails cite Russian support of the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr. says it was just another meeting that went nowhere.


TRUMP JR: This is pre Russia-mania. You know, this is 13 months ago before, I think, the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up this narrative about Russia. So I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up at this time because of it because it wasn't the issue that it's been made out to be over the last, you know, nine months, 10 months, since it really became a thing.

GONYEA: Donald Trump Jr. is 39 years old. He does not have a formal role in his father's administration. He is a favorite of his father's political base. He courts them. He talks to them on Twitter. He is a version of his father distilled to its essence - combative, in your face and unyielding. Again, this is courtesy of Fox News Channel's "Hannity."


TRUMP JR: Listen, I think politics is a dirty game. We've seen the sides that they take. We've seen the commentary they've had on my father. You know, I think it's a little bit ridiculous and overplayed. And I think people are getting that.

GONYEA: For those who back his father, this latest controversy is another opportunity to rally behind the Trump name, both father and son. And there's a phrase you hear over and over from these supporters.

MELANIE PATTERSON: Well, when I first heard it, I laughed again. Once again, I think it's a big nothing burger with zero calories.

GONYEA: That's Melanie Patterson of Belle Vernon in southwest Pennsylvania, an important corner in a state vital to Trump's November victory. She operates rental properties. Her husband runs a small manufacturing firm. She says it's no big deal that Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, arguing, who wouldn't if there was a chance to get the goods on an opponent?

PATTERSON: Who cares if these people were from Russia, China or Florida? I just think it's the media once again pushing something where there's really nothing there. So I find it rather amusing.

GONYEA: And with Donald Trump Jr.'s assertion that the meeting yielded nothing, his supporters say even more reason to call all of the questions a waste of time. John Patrarca is a salesman who also lives and works in southwest Pennsylvania.

JOHN PATRARCA: Well, I think the media and the Democrats are just, you know, just beating a dead horse. If I could give them advice, to move on to solutions, to move on what you can do with this country, you know, how you can make the country better. The media is focusing 24/7 on Russia.

GONYEA: There is potential legal risk for Donald Trump Jr. In releasing his emails yesterday, he does admit to a meeting with a Russian lawyer about the election. But his supporters see an upside. To them, it means he's being transparent, unlike, they say, Hillary Clinton and her private email server, which makes this yet another indication that the campaign has never ended. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.