Russian lawyer who met Trump Jr. ready to testify
Washington — The Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump’s eldest son during the 2016 election campaign said she’s ready to testify before the U.S. Senate and “clarify the situation behind this mass hysteria.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya in the expectation of receiving incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s White House campaign, according to emails Trump Jr. has publicly released. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.
The meeting raised new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Moscow, which are being scrutinized by federal and congressional investigators. These questions have only intensified as the identities of other Russia-connected participants have become known.
“I am ready to clarify the situation behind the mass hysteria, but only through lawyers or testifying in the Senate,” Veselnitskaya said in an interview with Kremlin-funded RT television broadcast Wednesday.
“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 added. That appeared to be a reference to Veselnitskaya’s previous statement that the meeting with Trump Jr. focused on U.S.-Russian adoption policies and a U.S. sanctions law.
Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government. She has not responded to repeated attempts by The Associated Press to reach her for comment.
Congressional investigators in both parties have said they want to hear from those involved in the meeting. The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, Virginia’s Mark Warner, said Wednesday afternoon that the panel hasn’t yet invited Veselnitskaya to testify, but he wants to hear from her and others who attended.
Warner said “it’s still being worked out” whether some of the committee’s more high-profile witnesses, including Trump Jr. and Manafort, should testify publicly or privately. The Senate and House intelligence panels conduct most of their interviews in private, but occasionally hold open hearings.
Warner said that for Trump Jr., “he’s got no security clearances that I am aware of, so he should be able to testify in public.”
Trump Jr. and Manafort could also testify publicly in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting a separate investigation into Russian meddling. The GOP chairman of that panel, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, is asking them both to testify and wants them to appear before Congress’s August recess.
Grassley told Iowa reporters Wednesday that he’s been talking to Trump Jr.’s lawyer and “I didn’t get any pushback” when suggesting he testify this week. But he said “it’s kind of rushy” to call him in so quickly and also Democrats had requested documents and emails that they wanted to see before the hearing.
Grassley had said he would subpoena the witnesses if necessary.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will review a law that oversees the registration of foreign agents. The panel has been investigating one of the participants at the Trump Jr. meeting, Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer Rinat Akhmetshin, as part of its probe into the law.
Grassley said “it could be before the day’s out we’d have a date set.”
The top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said this week that special counsel Robert Mueller has cleared Trump Jr. and Manafort for public testimony. Mueller is conducting the Department of Justice’s investigation and Grassley has said he wants to avoid conflicts.
The House Intelligence Committee is also probing the Russian meddling, and the top Democrat on that panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, says the committee is contacting participants in the Trump Jr. meeting. Referencing Feinstein’s comments about Mueller’s clearance, he said his committee may consider public hearings “for particular witnesses” but noted they rarely hold open hearings.
The House panel is “reaching out to participants in the meeting with a request for testimony and documents, so that is very much in process at the moment,” Schiff said.