U.S. senators announced Wednesday that President Donald Trump's eldest son, former campaign manager and son-in-law would testify next week about their meeting last June with a Russian attorney who said she had damaging information about Trump's Democratic opponent in last year's election.
Two Senate committees will be involved. The Judiciary Committee will question Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, the former campaign chief, in a public session July 26. The Intelligence Committee will hear from Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, on July 24, but that meeting will be closed to the public and reporters.
The Judiciary Committee's request to interview Trump Jr. and Manafort in open session was reviewed and approved by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department's special counsel investigating extent of the Russian government's involvement in and influence on the 2016 presidential election.
Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said his client would appear voluntarily before the Intelligence Committee and would cooperate with the proceedings. Lowell said Kushner "appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest."
The Russian lawyer at the center of the mysterious meeting in New York last year, meanwhile, said she was ready to share with senators everything she knew about her meeting with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner. Natalia Veselnitskaya was interviewed in Moscow by the Kremlin-funded RT broadcast network, formerly known in the U.S. as Russia Today.
At least 8 participants
The meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York, the future president's campaign headquarters, is now known to have included at least eight people: Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner, plus five Russian or Russian-linked participants: attorney Veselnitskaya; Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterterrorism agent who now has American citizenship; British music publicist Rob Goldstone, who represents several Russian clients, and who arranged the meeting by email; Russian businessman Ike Kaveladze; and a Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov.
Trump Jr. wrote in an email exchange with Goldstone that he would "love it" if Veselnitskaya had incriminating material on Democrat Hillary Clinton, as promised. But after news of the gathering surfaced this month, the president's son said the lawyer had no information of value about Clinton, and that their conference ended quickly.
Subsequent media accounts of the meeting have produced other details, including a report that the Russians turned over a dossier containing printed information related to the Clinton campaign.
RT published excerpts of its interview with Veselnitskaya online late Wednesday. Speaking through a translator, the lawyer said: "If the Senate wishes to hear the real story, I will be happy to speak up and share everything I wanted to tell Mr. Trump."
She did not mention the Clinton campaign, but contended she was the victim of a "disinformation" campaign organized by an American businessman, William Browder, the chief executive and co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, which once was the largest foreign investor in post-Soviet Russia.
FBI nominee's advice
The president's nominee to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray, testified at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that anyone contacted during a political campaign and offered potentially damaging political information by a foreign adversary like Russia should have contacted the FBI before agreeing to any meeting.
Trump, however, has staunchly defended his 39-year-old son's actions. Through Twitter and in public appearances, he has said such a meeting amounted to normal "opposition research" — seeking information about an opposing political candidate — and that no precaution such as that recommended by Wray was necessary.
The Veselnitskaya meeting is one of several developments being investigated in Washington following the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to interfere in last year's election and help Trump win.
In addition to examining contacts between Trump's campaign team and Russian interests, Mueller — a former FBI director who also held senior posts in the U.S. Justice Department — is probing whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey earlier this year, when Comey was leading that agency's Russia investigation and before Mueller was named to his current post.