WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s eldest son and his former campaign chairman have been given approval by a U.S. special counsel to testify publicly to Congress as part of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said on Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Reuters the special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, said that Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, campaign manager from March to August, were free to speak to the committee.
Mueller is investigating allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to help Trump win the presidency and possible collusion between Moscow and the Republican’s campaign. Russia denies meddling in the campaign, and Trump says there was no collusion.
If Trump Jr. were to appear before the judiciary committee, he would be the highest member of the president’s inner circle of relatives and White House aides to testify in Congress about the Russia allegations. Several congressional panels have investigations open.
The allegations have dominated Trump’s first six months in office. Trump Jr., who runs the Trump Organization family business, released emails last week in which he eagerly agreed in June 2016 to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father’s campaign.
The meeting in Trump Tower in New York appears to be the most tangible evidence of a connection between Trump’s campaign and Russia, investigators in Congress have said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has said he would coordinate with Mueller to ensure that any witnesses the panel brings would not conflict with Mueller’s criminal investigation.
Feinstein, asked whether Mueller had given the go ahead for Trump Jr. and Manafort to testify publicly, said, “yes.”
Feinstein said the committee planned for the testimony to be part of a broader hearing scheduled for Wednesday but has now been postponed. She could not confirm whether the hearing would take place next week.
A man who works for a Moscow-based developer with ties to Trump was identified on Tuesday as the eighth person to attend the Trump Tower meeting.
Lawyer Scott Balber confirmed Ike Kaveladze’s name to Reuters after CNN reported that his client had been identified by special counsel Mueller’s prosecutors and was cooperating in their investigation.
Balber represented Trump himself in the New York businessman’s 2013 lawsuit against comedian television host Bill Maher, demanding the $5 million Maher offered to give to charity if Trump could prove his father is not an orangutan.
Kaveladze’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as vice president of Crocus Group, a company run by Moscow-based developers Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, an Azerbaijani-Russian pop star. The two have ties to the Trump family and helped set up last year’s meeting between Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Kaveladze was asked to go to the meeting with the understanding that he would be a translator for Veselnitskaya, only to find she had brought her own translator with her, Balber told CNN.
Balber said he also represents the Agalarovs. Balber said Mueller’s investigators have not interviewed his client or made contact about the Agalarovs.
In addition to Trump Jr., lawyer Veselnitskaya, her translator, and Kaveladze, the meeting was attended by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Manafort, publicist Rob Goldstone and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin.
Anatoli Samochornov was identified as Veselnitskaya’s translator in multiple media reports.
In Moscow, Russia said it reserved the right to retaliate against the United States after a meeting in Washington ended without an agreement to return Russian diplomatic property the U.S. had seized.
Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December over what he said was their involvement in hacking the U.S. election campaign.