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Thursday 14 November 2019

Trump's ex-campaign chief meets Senate investigators

Paul Manafort has agreed to provide notes of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer (AP)
Paul Manafort has agreed to provide notes of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer (AP)

Donald Trump's former campaign chairman has met Senate investigators, giving his recollection of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, sources said.

The appearance by Paul Manafort came as the US president'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 the House of Representatives' intelligence committee.

Both Mr Manafort and Mr Kushner have been co-operating 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 Mr Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr, as being part of a Russian government effort to aid Mr Trump's presidential campaign.

Mr Manafort met Senate intelligence committee staff and "answered their questions fully", his spokesman Jason Maloni said.

Mr Manafort's discussion with committee staff was limited to his recollection of the June 2016 meeting, according to two people familiar with the interview.

He had previously disclosed the meeting in documents he turned over to the committee and has now provided notes he took at the time, one source said.

The other person said Mr Manafort also said he would take part in additional interviews with the intelligence committee staff on other topics if necessary.

Mr Kushner spent about three hours behind closed doors with the House committee on Tuesday.

Republican congressman Mike Conaway of Texas, leading the panel's Russia probe, said he found Mr Kushner to be "straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had".

The committee's top Democrat, 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," Mr Schiff added.

On Monday, Mr Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate's intelligence panel, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Mr 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," Mr 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 Mr Trump Jr accepted a June 2016 meeting with 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 his father's campaign.

But, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, Mr Kushner said he had not read those emails until they were recently shown to him by his lawyers.

Mr Kushner's statement was the first detailed defence from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Mr Trump's presidency.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to tip the 2016 campaign in Mr Trump's favour.

Mr Kushner called the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya such a "waste of time" that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.

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 Mr Trump Jr about the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya.

Republican senartor Chuck Grassley and Democrat Dianne Feinstein had also issued a subpoena for Mr Manafort to give evidence publicly during a Wednesday hearing before the committee.

But late on Tuesday the committee rescinded the subpoena.

Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Mr Grassley, said the committee withdrew the subpoena after Mr Manafort agreed to turn over documents and to continue negotiating about setting up an interview with the panel.

The committee also removed Mr Manafort and Mr Trump Jr from the list of witnesses scheduled for the public hearing.

The committee has sought to talk to Mr Manafort about the Trump Tower meeting, among other issues including his foreign political work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

A separate subpoena issued for Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the research firm behind a dossier of salacious allegations about Mr Trump and his ties to Russia, was also withdrawn.

On Monday Mr Kushner 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 Mr Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Mr Kushner and Mr Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.


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