Secret Service rejects suggestion it vetted Trump son's meeting

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Secret Service on Sunday denied a suggestion from President Donald Trump's personal lawyer that it had vetted a meeting between the president's son and Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign.

Donald Trump Jr. has acknowledged that he met in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was told she might have damaging information about his father's rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. through the years
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Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. through the years
FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump Jr. (L) gives a thumbs up beside his father Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (R) after Trump's debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S. September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
Donald Trump, flanked by his son Donald Jr. (R), addresses the media in Chicago May 10, 2006. Trump was in Chicago to speak about his Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago that is being built on the old site of the Chicago Sun-Times building on the north side of the Chicago River. Trump also stated in the news conference that he has given the project oversight to the children.
FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump Jr. (C) hugs his father, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, as Donald Jr's wife Vanessa (L) walks past after Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File photo
Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump during 1988 U.S. Open - September 3, 1988 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Donald Trump Jr. (L) walks off stage with his father Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump after Trump's debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S. September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. during 'Veranda: New York's Best at Trump Park Avenue, The Ultimate Showcase Penthouse' Opening Night Reception at The Trump Park Avenue in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic)
Donald Trump (C), entrepreneur and host of the television reality series "The Apprentice" poses with his wife and children (L-R) Donald Trump, Jr., Tiffany, Donald Trump, wife Melania, and daughter Ivanka at the party following the live telecast of the finale of season five in Los Angeles June 5, 2006. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Donald Trump (C) and his sons Eric F. Trump (L) and Donald Trump Jr. (R) attend the 'Celebrity Apprentice All Stars' Season 13 Press Conference at Jack Studios on October 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)
Donald Trump (2nd L), entrepreneur and host of the television reality series 'The Apprentice', poses with his children, (L-R) son Donald Trump, Jr., and daughters Tiffany and Ivanka at the party following the live telecast of the finale of season five in Los Angeles June 5, 2006.
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (C) speaks with Donald Trump Jr. (L) and Ivanka Trump (R) during the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (R) waves to a fan as his son Donald Jr. looks on after Trump received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles January 16, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello (UNITED STATES)
(L-R) Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump attend the ground breaking of the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington July 23, 2014. The $200 million transformation of the Old Post Office Building into a Trump hotel is scheduled for completion in 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS REAL ESTATE)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump kisses his son Donald, Jr. at a campaign event at Regents University in Virginia Beach, Virginia February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: Donald Trump is joined by his son, Donald Jr., at a Park Ave. luncheon hosted by The Donald. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27: Donald Trump, Visionary Business Leader award honoree, poses with his children Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka at Fashion Group International's 22nd Annual 'Night Of Stars' at Cipriani's 42nd Street October 27, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 19: Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump at the Trump Soho Launch on September 19, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Von Holden/WireImage)
COO Trump International Hotels, Jim Petrus, Ivanka Trump Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump at Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr.and Eric Trump Launch the N on October 10, 2007 at Jean Georges, Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City. (Photo by Shawn Ehlers/WireImage)
DATELINE NBC -- Pictured: (l-r) Donald Trump, Natalie Morales, Donald Trump Jr. -- (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (L) introduces his son Donald Trump Jr. (R) as he addressing the crowd during a campaign rally at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Trump is preparing for the Indiana Primary on May 3rd. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Donald Trump, Jr. (R) greets his father Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election. (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)
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"Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me," Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, said on Sunday on the ABC news program "This Week."

In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow's comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump's son and two senior campaign officials.

"Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time," the statement said.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. last week, he eagerly agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, who he was told was a Russian government lawyer. Veselnitskaya has said she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.

On Friday, NBC News reported that a lobbyist who was once a Soviet counter-intelligence officer participated in the meeting, which was also attended by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The meeting appears to be the most tangible evidence of a connection between Trump's election campaign and Russia, a subject that has prompted investigations by congressional committees and a federal special counsel.

Moscow has denied any interference and the president and Trump Jr. have denied any collusion.

Sekulow's comments about the Secret Service drew quick criticism, including from Frances Townsend, who advised former Republican President George W. Bush on homeland security.

"Ok let's try to deflect blame & throw those in @SecretService who protect @POTUS @realDonaldTrump @FLOTUS & family under the bus," she said on Twitter.

The Secret Service's mission is to provide physical protection for the U.S. president. The agency also protects major presidential candidates. But its role in vetting people who meet with a U.S. president or candidates is limited to ensuring physical safety.

LAWYER: TRUMP UNAWARE OF MEETING

Trump himself has said he was unaware of the meeting between his son and the Russian lawyer until a few days ago.

"The president was not aware about this meeting, did not participate in this meeting," Sekulow told the CBS program "Face the Nation."

Sekulow added that Trump was not aware of any meetings between his campaign staff and Russians.

A federal special counsel and several congressional panels are investigating allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. They are also investigating potential connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on one of the panels investigating the matter, the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN: "The level of credibility from the senior level of this administration really is suspect."

Warner said he wanted to hear from everyone who attended the June 2016 meeting.

"Whether we will be able to get the Russian nationals to come over and testify is an open question, (but) those people that our committee has jurisdiction over, the Americans, I sure as heck want to talk to all of them," Warner said. (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Peter Cooney)

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