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Trump Stuns Grieving Britons: Meet the Suspect in Your Son’s Death

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Wednesday that he had tried unsuccessfully to arrange a White House meeting between the parents of a teenager killed in an August crash in Britain and the American driver involved in the crash.

The parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office Tuesday evening but balked when he said that Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an American diplomat whom British police are seeking for her involvement in the crash, was in a nearby room and wanted to meet with them.

“I offered to bring the person in question in,” the president told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “They weren’t ready for it. But I did offer.”

The attempted intervention added another painful twist to a case that has enraged Britons in the weeks since Ms. Sacoolas, 42, claimed diplomatic immunity and left the country in the days after the crash that killed Harry Dunn, 19. Since then, British and American officials have said that Ms. Sacoolas’s claim to immunity is no longer relevant since she has returned home.

Shortly after her 15-minute meeting with the president, Ms. Charles said Mr. Trump proposed that she and her husband meet with Ms. Sacoolas, but Mr. Dunn said that the meeting felt “rushed” and that it would not have gone well.

“The bombshell was dropped not soon after we walked in the room,” Ms. Charles told reporters. “We would still love to meet with her, but it has to be on our terms and on U.K. soil.”

Ms. Charles added that Ms. Sacoolas “needs to come back and face the justice system.”

In talking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he had arranged the meeting at the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain.

“He asked me if I’d do that, and I did it,” Mr. Trump said.

But an official in Mr. Johnson’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation, denied that the prime minister had suggested that Mr. Trump arrange the meeting in the way it was eventually formatted. The president brought up Ms. Sacoolas when the two leaders spoke last week, but no plans were completed.

“The prime minister asked the president to do all he could to help resolve this tragic issue,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Johnson said in a statement “The president agreed to work on trying to find a way forward.”

The end result was not what either side had envisioned.

Ms. Sacoolas was said to be “devastated by this tragic incident,” according to a statement made on her behalf by her lawyer, Amy Jeffress. “No loss compares to the death of a child and Anne extends her deepest sympathy to Harry Dunn’s family,” the statement said.

A person familiar with what transpired said Ms. Sacoolas had wanted to meet privately with the family, but was directed to come to the White House to participate in Mr. Trump’s plan.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer for the Dunn family, called the president’s surprise offer of a meeting “a gargantuan miscalculation,” and suggested that the meeting had been orchestrated for the benefit of the news media.

Mr. Stephens told reporters that the meeting was attended by “the head of U.S. spying, ” and later clarified in a phone interview on Wednesday that he was referring to Robert C. O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser.

“This O’Brien had effectively curated the idea that there would be a confrontation between the Dunns and Mrs. Sacoolas and that the press would film it,” Mr. Stephens said.

White House officials denied the claim that the meeting had been arranged with the idea that the news media would capture it, and reiterated that the British prime minister had helped hatch the plan.

“The president met with members of the Dunn family to personally offer his condolences for the loss of their son,” Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement. “His intent was to do all he could to comfort the victims of a tragic accident. This was at the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.”

Apart from expressing anguish at the family’s loss through her lawyer, Ms. Sacoolas has not spoken out publicly about the crash, which occurred on Aug. 27 in Brackley, a town in Northamptonshire about 60 miles northwest of London near a Royal Air Force base that hosts a United States Air Force communication station.

The Northamptonshire police said it believed that Ms. Sacoolas had been driving on the wrong side of the road when her vehicle collided with a motorcycle ridden by Harry Dunn.

After the accident, the authorities said, Ms. Sacoolas told officers that she had no plans to travel abroad. But she abruptly left Britain, claiming diplomatic immunity and setting off an international uproar. On Sept. 5, Britain made a formal request for a waiver of diplomatic immunity to the United States Embassy in London. It was declined eight days later.

Despite being caught off guard by the president’s suggestion for an unplanned meeting with Ms. Sacoolas, Harry Dunn’s parents appeared grateful for Mr. Trump’s interest in the case.

Ms. Charles said that the president was “very gracious” and “very welcoming,” and that though he did not suggest that Ms. Sacoolas would return to Britain, he said he would now “push to look at this from a different angle.”

“I think he generally will look to try and resolve this in a way to help us,” Mr. Dunn told reporters.

Last week, Mr. Trump described the death as “a terrible accident,” adding that it was “a very, very complex issue because we’re talking about diplomatic immunity.”

He also expressed understanding for Ms. Sacoolas, suggesting that he himself had driven on the wrong side of the road in Britain. On Wednesday, the president again expressed his sympathy for Ms. Sacoolas, whom he said had been confused by British driving laws.

“I believe it was going down the wrong way because that happens in Europe,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “The roads are opposite. And she said that’s what happened. That happens to a lot of people, by the way.”

The president said that he had a “beautiful” meeting with the “desperately sad” parents, but that his involvement in the matter was through.

“Now they say they only want to meet if they’re in the U.K.,” he said. “And that’ll be up to them.”

Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Iliana Magra from London. Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

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