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WASHINGTON —U.S. President Donald Trump fumed at the American news media Sunday, accusing reporters of "distorting democracy" in their stories about the meeting between his son and a Russian lawyer last year.
Donald Trump Jr. apparently jumped at the chance to meet with the lawyer when an intermediary told him she had incriminating information on his father's rival for the White House, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the debate and delete 33,000 emails, but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?" Trump wrote on Twitter.
"With all of its phony unnamed sources and highly slanted and even fraudulent reporting, Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country," he said in a separate tweet.
'Democracy needs a free press'
The White House Correspondents Association rejected the president's assertions.
"A free and independent press is actually critical to democracy," it said.
The White House is defending Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and several other Russian figures at Trump Tower. The younger Trump said the meeting amounted to nothing since the woman did not have the damaging details about Clinton she had promised to reveal.
The president himself has said he was unaware of the meeting, but his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, appeared to be trying to point the blame elsewhere Sunday. During a television interview (ABC's "This Week Sunday"), Sekulow asked why, if the meeting between Trump Jr. and the Russians was so "nefarious," did the Secret Service allow the visitors into Trump Tower?
Secret Service denies any connection
A Secret Service spokesman denied Sunday it had any role in approving the meeting or its participants.
"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 spokesman said in a statement.
It is possible that there was nothing illegal about the meeting. President Trump said politics is an ugly business and most people would have done what his son did to to get information on an opponent.
But the news of the meeting came after months of nonstop denials by the White House that the Trump campaign knew nothing about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, including whether the president attempted to obstruct justice when he fired FBI director James Comey, who was heading the probe before Mueller took over.
Low poll ratings are 'not bad' - Trump
President Trump was much more sanguine, however, about another piece of bad news Sunday - his approval numbers have dropped even lower.
A Washington Post / ABC news poll gives the president a 36% approval rating - one of the lowest ever for a president this early in his administration. This is a drop from 42 percent in April.
Trump tweeted that "almost 40% is not bad at this time," and he also criticized the Post and ABC for the inaccuracy of their political polls last year before the presidential election.
Nearly half of the Americans contacted in the new survey said the country's global standing has deteriorated under Trump, and that they do not trust him to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sixty percent said they believe Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer was inappropriate.