US President Donald Trump says he doesn't fault his son Donald Trump Jr for meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential election campaign and that he was unaware of the meeting until a few days ago.
Asked if he knew that his son was meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year, the president told Reuters: "No, that I didn't know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this."
Trump Jr eagerly agreed to meet the woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow's official support for his father's campaign, according to emails released by the younger Trump.
Seated at his Oval Office desk, Trump said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting, writing it off as a decision made in the heat of an upstart, non-traditional campaign.
"I think many people would have held that meeting," Trump said.
"It was a 20-minute meeting, I guess, from what I'm hearing," Trump said. "Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do that."
The emails were the most concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials might have been willing to accept Russian help to win the November 8 election, a subject that has cast a cloud over Trump's presidency and prompted investigations by the US Justice Department and Congress.
Donald Trump Jr, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, said: "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently."
In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what US intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
"I said, 'Did you do it?' And he said, 'No, I did not. Absolutely not.' I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not," Trump said.
Asked if he believed Putin's denial, Trump paused.
"Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can't allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is," he said.
About Putin, he added: "Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn't have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point."
As in the past, Trump said there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
"There was zero coordination. It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," he said.
The Republican president said Democrats had used the accusations to justify Clinton's loss in November, saying: "The White House is functioning beautifully despite the hoax made up by the Democrats."