January 25, 2018 / 4:39 PM / 8 months ago

Senate committee moves toward releasing Trump-Russia interviews

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said on Thursday he wanted to release the transcripts of interviews the committee has done about a meeting at Trump Tower central to investigations of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election.

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks with reporters ahead of votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Among the interviews conducted behind closed doors, the Judiciary panel has interviewed Republican President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who attended the June 2016 meeting, along with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others.

“Let’s get them out there for everyone to see,” Senator Chuck Grassley said during a meeting of the committee, one of three congressional panels conducting investigations, as is Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump Jr. had told investigators he had set up the meeting because Veselnitskaya might have had damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, his father’s opponent.

Grassley’s statement came amid increasing partisan rancor in Congress over the investigations of the intelligence community’s finding that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election to boost Trump, and whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow.

Russia denies trying to influence the election. Trump dismisses any talk of collusion.

The Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, angered Grassley this month by releasing the transcript of the panel’s interview with Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS, which researched Trump’s ties to Russia and produced a dossier denounced by the White House.

Feinstein commented on Thursday that she agreed that committee transcripts should be released to Mueller, and to the public if it does not interfere with the investigation.

“I hope this means Chairman Grassley will move forward with public hearings for Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, which we agreed to pursue last year,” she said in an emailed statement.

‘SPOOKED’

Grassley said on Thursday Feinstein’s action “spooked” other potential witnesses, including Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner.

“As a result, it looks like our chances of getting a voluntary interview with Mr. Kushner have been shot,” Grassley said.

Feinstein disagreed. “I certainly haven’t heard that,” she told reporters at the Senate, explaining that Simpson’s associates had asked her to release that transcript to counteract what they considered misleading reporting.

According to a person familiar with the exchange, Kushner’s legal team did not decline an appearance with Senate Judiciary but asked for guidance on when committee members are allowed to disclose information.

A Grassley spokesman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Attorneys for Kushner did not immediately respond to request for comment. A lawyer for Trump Jr. declined comment.

Grassley said he felt his committee’s investigation of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, attended by Russians and close Trump associates, was complete, so it was time to start releasing the transcripts.

“That can hopefully be done through agreement with the Ranking Member, but if not, possibly through a committee vote. I’d like to work on getting that done as soon as possible,” Grassley said.

Democrats and Republicans have also been arguing this week over a memorandum commissioned by House of Representatives Republicans that Republicans say illustrates anti-Trump bias at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Democrats, in turn, accuse Republicans of conducting a smear campaign intended to protect Trump by discrediting Mueller’s investigation.

“What began as an attempt to discredit the investigator has now devolved into delusional, self-serving paranoia,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York and Blake Brittain in Washington; editing by Susan Thomas and David Gregorio

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