Three members of Donald Trump’s inner circle face congressional investigators this week, and with the president talking about pardons for his family and warning Special Counsel Robert Mueller not to probe to deeply, the stakes could hardly be higher.
Members of Congress on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees want to unearth new details about a meeting in which Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer after being promised that Moscow wanted to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Kushner will meet Monday with the Senate Intelligence Committee and Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee. Both meetings are termed "interviews" instead of the normal "testimony." Notably, both will be held behind closed doors. He released an 11-page statement addressing many of the issues that members of Congress have flagged as concerning.
"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts," he said in the statement. "I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector."
He addressed one meeting as a simple meet and greet, said he had doubts that he had the phone calls reported with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And he noted that he had his assistant get him out of a meeting now at the center of headlines about Russia matters.
The Intelligence committees are leading the Congressional investigations into the Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election and the possible collusion by members of Trump’s campaign. These probes have taken a backseat to the Mueller investigation, which is now looking beyond Trump’s political campaign and into his businesses.
But with Trump warning Mueller against expanding his investigation beyond the campaign, and sentiment spreading throughout Washington that the president might dismiss Mueller, lawmakers are eager to re-engage. Trump also insisted he has complete power to pardon.
The President is clearly worried that Bob Mueller will be looking into allegations, for example, that the Russians may have laundered money through the Trump Organization
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Later this week, Trump Jr. and Manafort have agreed to meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the two men had been scheduled to take part in an open session of the committee dealing at a hearing on "Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections: Lessons Learned from Current and Prior Administrations," they have since negotiated instead to provide documents and speak in private.
The three men are at the center of a controversial June 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Emails released by Trump Jr. provide evidence that the campaign eagerly sought a meeting with Russian operatives after being promised information about Clinton, even after learning it was coming from the Russian government.
"We certainly want to know about several of the meetings that have been alleged to have taken place, obviously the meeting with Donald Jr. and the several Russians that we now know were in that meeting," sRep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on House Intelligence, said on Sunday on CBS Face the Nation. "But also his meeting that was alleged to have taken place with the head of the VEB Bank, sanctioned Russian bank, as well as that alleged conversation he had with the Ambassador about setting up a secret back channel to Russia."
Schiff said Kushner will be available to the committee for two hours, and said this would just be the first interview with him.
“There’s a great many questions that we'll have for Mr. Kushner,” Schiff said.
Mueller in May was appointed special counsel to oversee an independent federal investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the election that the FBI had been running for almost a full year. There is no deadline for Mueller’s investigation. According to news reports, however, Mueller’s investigation is considering elements of collusion, as well as more straightforward criminal matters, such as money laundering.
Schiff addressed that on CBS, saying: "First the President is clearly worried that Bob Mueller will be looking into allegations, for example, that the Russians may have laundered money through the Trump Organization. That is really something, in my opinion, he needs to look at because what concerns me the most, is anything that can be held over the President's head that could influence U.S. policy, that would be among most powerful form of kompromat."
The White House continues to downplay the investigation and new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump remains less than convinced by the intelligence reports.
"He basically said to me, 'Hey you know, this is, maybe they did it, maybe they didn't do it,'" Scaramucci said. He went on to add: "The mainstream media position on this, that they interfered in the election" is seen as an insult by Trump.
He said that Trump wonders "What are you guys suggesting? You're going to delegitimize his victory?"
Congressional inquiries and intelligence officials have been clear in stating that they don’t know how to prove if the Russian attempt to interfere (which they are convinced happened) actually changed the outcome of the election, or even any votes.