The Secret Service is denying a claim by Jay Sekulow, a prominent member of the Trump legal team, that nothing “nefarious” could have happened at the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, described to Trump as a Russian government lawyer with information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Sekulow claimed that the Secret Service would have prevented misbehavior and would have even prevented the Trumps from meeting with unsavory characters.
Reuters reports that Sekulow, who is also Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said on “This Week” on ABC News, “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.”
In an emailed response to Sekulow’s query, also quoted by Reuters, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said, “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.”
Additionally, the Secret Service does not screen meeting participants for honesty or “nefarious” purposes. The role of the Secret Service is limited to providing physical protection for their protectees.
It is not the job of the Secret Service to prevent protectees from making bad decisions. This concept is illustrated by reports that Malia Obama smoked marijuana while under Secret Service protection. The Bush twins also reportedly got into trouble while under Secret Service protection. A 2009 book detailed the girls’ wild side that included buying alcohol with a fake ID and a bar fight that eventually required the Secret Service to intervene.
Questions have been raised about the role of participants at the meeting, as well as the purpose of the meeting itself. Donald Trump, Jr. initially claimed the meeting was about child adoption policy, but then released the email chain showing that the topic was to be Hillary Clinton and assistance that the Russian government could provide to the Trump campaign.
The principal in the meeting was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer described as representing the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya denies working for the Kremlin and seems to have been a lobbyist who met with both Democrats and Republicans.
Last week, NBC News reported that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who served as a counterintelligence officer in the Russian military, was also present at the meeting. Akhmetsin, who holds dual US-Russian citizenship, denies having current ties to Russian intelligence.
In musing about the responsibility of the Secret Service to protect adult children of the president from unsavory characters, Sekulow broke a cardinal rule of the trial lawyer profession: Never ask a question unless you know the answer. Sekulow is a respected conservative attorney who really should have known better.