Trump rows back from cybersecurity deal with Putin

Move comes after president’s son said to have met Russian lawyer for damaging Hillary Clinton information

G20 summit: President Trump arrives back at the White House on Saturday. Photograph:  Al Drago/New York Times

G20 summit: President Trump arrives back at the White House on Saturday. Photograph: Al Drago/New York Times

 

US president Donald Trump has rowed back from a proposal to co-operate with Russia on cybersecurity after several Republicans publicly lambasted the suggestion.

A day after returning to the United States from the G20 summit in Hamburg, Mr Trump highlighted a proposal he had discussed with Russian president Vladimir Putin during their highly anticipated meeting on Friday. “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” he tweeted.

The suggestion attracted ridicule from Democrats and some senior Republicans, who questioned why the US president would co-operate with a country that US intelligence services have concluded interfered in last year’s US presidential election.

“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close,” the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’.”

Mr Trump appeared to row back on the suggestion by late Sunday evening, tweeting: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t . . .”

Donald Trump jnr: the president’s son is said to have arranged a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign. Photograph: Al Drago/New York Times
Donald Trump jnr: the president’s son is said to have arranged a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign. Photograph: Al Drago/New York Times

The continuing controversy over Mr Trump’s links with Russia reignited on Monday following confirmation by the president’s son Donald Trump jnr that he met a Russian lawyer in June after she said she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

In a statement the president’s eldest son said that he had met Natalia Veselnitskaya in June at Trump Tower, in New York, at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, believed to be the publicist Rob Goldstone, who represents Russian pop stars. 

But he said her comments about Mrs Clinton were “vague, ambiguous and made no sense” and the conversation quickly moved to adoption and the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists suspected Russian human-rights abusers. His comments differed from an earlier statement in response to a report of the meeting in the New York Times, in which he did not mention the conversation about his father’s rival for the presidency.

Kremlin-linked lawyer: Natalia Veselnitskaya is said to have offered Donald Trump jnr damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Photograph: Yury Martyanov/Kommersant Photo via AP
Kremlin-linked lawyer: Natalia Veselnitskaya is said to have offered Donald Trump jnr damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Photograph: Yury Martyanov/Kommersant Photo via AP

The meeting was also attended by Trump snr’s then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is now a senior adviser to the president.

Moscow denied any knowledge of the meeting. Mr Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, on Monday told reporters that the Kremlin “cannot keep track of every Russian lawyer and their meetings domestically or abroad”.

Ms Veselnitskaya represents businesspeople with close ties to the Russian government, and was previously on the radar of the FBI, the New York Times reported.

Mr Trump jnr, who runs the family business with his brother Eric, rejected suggestions that he had changed his story within 24 hours. “No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q’s I simply provided more details,” he said on Twitter.

The president’s eldest son previously said he had never attended any arranged meetings with Russians.

The suggestion that senior figures in Mr Trump’s campaign team were prepared to meet a Russian offering information about Hillary Clinton is the strongest indication yet of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The latest controversy has emerged as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation into Russian meddling in the election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.