Trump ex-campaign chair talks with Senate investigators
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman met with Senate investigators Tuesday, providing his recollection of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, according to people familiar with the closed-door interview.
The appearance by Paul Manafort came the same morning that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner returned to Capitol Hill for a second day of private meetings, this time for a conversation with lawmakers on the House intelligence committee.
Both Manafort and Kushner have been cooperating with the committees which, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible collusion with Trump associates.
The two men have faced particular scrutiny about attending the Trump Tower meeting because it was described in emails to Donald Trump Jr. as being part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, Manafort met with bipartisan staff of the Senate intelligence committee and “answered their questions fully,” his spokesman, Jason Maloni, said.
Manafort’s discussion with committee staff was limited to his recollection of the June 2016 meeting, according to two people familiar with the interview. Both demanded anonymity to discuss details because the interview occurred behind closed doors.
Manafort had previously disclosed the meeting in documents he turned over to the committee. He has now provided the committee with notes he took at the time, one of the people said. The other person said Manafort has also said he will participate in additional interviews with the Senate intelligence committee staff on other topics if necessary. Those meetings haven’t yet been scheduled.
Also Tuesday, Kushner spent about three hours behind closed doors with the House committee.
Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who is leading the panel’s Russia probe, said he found Kushner to be “straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had.” He said Kushner was willing to follow up with the committee if it has additional questions.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the questions touched on “a range of issues the committee had been concerned about.”
“We appreciate his voluntary willingness to come and testify today,” Schiff added.
On Monday, Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate’s intelligence panel, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide.”
In an 11-page statement, he acknowledged his Russian contacts during the campaign and immediately after the election, in which he served as a liaison between the transition and foreign governments.
He described the contacts as either insignificant or routine and said they had been omitted from his security clearance form because of an aide’s error.
“Let me be very clear,” Kushner said later in a rare public statement at the White House, “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”
Emails released this month show that Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, accepted a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya with the understanding that he would receive damaging information on Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, Kushner said he hadn’t read those emails until recently shown them by his lawyers.
Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defense from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to tip the 2016 campaign in Trump’s favor.
Kushner called the meeting with Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.
“No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign; there was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of; I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” he said.
In addition to the Senate and House intelligence committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee has also been investigating Russia’s election interference. The committee has been negotiating terms of a private, on-the-record interview with Trump Jr. about the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein had also issued a subpoena for Manafort to testify publicly during a Wednesday hearing before the committee. But late Tuesday the committee rescinded the subpoena.
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Grassley, said the committee withdrew the subpoena after Manafort agreed to turn over documents and to continue negotiating about setting up an interview with the panel. The committee also removed Manafort and Trump Jr. from the list of witnesses scheduled for the public hearing.
The committee has sought to talk with Manafort about the Trump Tower meeting, among other issues including his foreign political work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.
The committee also withdrew a separate subpoena issued for the co-founder of the research firm behind a dossier of salacious allegations about Trump and his ties to Russia. Instead, Glenn Simpson has agreed to a private interview, Grassley said. He also was removed from Wednesday’s public hearing witness list.
Kushner on Monday confirmed earlier media reports that he had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to set up secure communications between Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and Russian officials. But he disputed that it was an effort to establish a “secret back channel.”
His statement describes a December meeting with Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Kushner and Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.