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President Trump has lashed out at members of his own Republican Party for doing ‘very little’ to protect him as US lawmakers step up their probe into alleged ties between his election campaign and Russia.
‘It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President,’ he tweeted.
In a second message, Mr Trump added: ‘As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians.’
Washington sources say that Capitol Hill hearings focusing on a controversial meeting between Mr Trump’s inner circle and a Russian lawyer will take place this week against a backdrop of a White House under a ‘siege mentality’ with the president distrustful of even some of his closest aides and intent on going on the offensive against anyone he feels is threatening him.
His son, Donald Trump Jr. has also come under fire for striking a deal with a congressional committee to escape public scrutiny and and keep his version of the meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer under wraps at a private session.
The secrecy row blew up after Senator Al Franken insisted that the president’s eldest son should be grilled under oath about his Russian connections at a planned public hearing on Wednesday.
Mr Trump Jr. and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were due to appear in front of an open Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday to answer questions about the Trump Tower meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
But they reached a compromise with committee chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat member Dianne Feinstein this weekend, agreeing to be interviewed and turn over any documents relating to the infamous June 2016 meeting – as long as they did so in private.
‘That’s not good enough,’ said Mr Franken. ‘It should be under oath.’
Speaking on CNN’s ‘State of the Nation’, Mr Franken said he wants to ask the president’s son if he ‘had any other meetings with Russians.’
Senator Feinstein promised the panel will get to the bottom of the intrigue, tweeting: ‘The Judiciary Committee will talk to Trump Jr. & Manafort before they testify in public, but we will get answers.’
Nevertheless, the move by Mr Trump Jr. appears to contradict a claim he made a fortnight ago that he had ‘nothing to hide.’
Opponents pounced on the meeting as evidence that Mr Trump Jr. was willing to collude with the Russian government to get incriminating information that would help his father’s presidential campaign and influence the results of the election.
In e-mail correspondence released by Mr Trump Jr., the go-between who proposed the meeting mentioned ‘Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.’
It is illegal under US election law for a campaign to receive a ‘contribution’ from a foreign government or national.
After details of the meeting were revealed by the New York Times, Mr Trump Jr. claimed that no ‘meaningful’ information emerged and he insisted that his father was kept in the dark about the rendezvous itself and the arrangements leading up to it.
The denials have done little to quash the whiff of scandal. Nor has the president’s insistence that stories about his camp’s ties with Russia were ‘fake news’ and part of a ‘witch hunt’ being conducted against him by his enemies,
The new twist in the controversy came as Jared Kushner, husband of the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and Mr Trump’s most trusted White House advisor, prepared to sit down today with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Like Mr Trump Jr. and Mr Manafort, he will be asked about his participation in the meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya.
Also like the Capitol Hill interviews of Mr Trump Jr and Mr Manafort – which will be held sometime before August 2 – Mr Kushner will be quizzed in private and he will not be under oath.
He will speak to members of the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow (Tuesday), with the same ground rules.
Members of Congress will want to know:
Exactly what was said at the meeting.
Whether any documents were handed over and, if so, what they were.
How much the participants knew of any Russian government involvement.
If Donald Trump was aware of the meeting.
As well as the Clinton ‘dirty tricks’ meeting, Mr Kushner is likely to be asked about a Washington Post report that he tried to set up a secret back channel as a way of communicating with Moscow.
The lawmakers will almost certainly also quiz Mr Kushner about his December 2016 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and head of the Vnesheconombank, which faced US sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House committee, said there will be ‘ a lot of ground to cover.’
‘There’s a lot we want to know,’ he said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘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.’
Mr Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said his client will do his best to help put ‘this matter to rest.’
‘As Mr. Kushner has been saying since March, he has been and is prepared to voluntarily cooperate and provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress,’ he said in a statement.
The June 9 meeting is not the only avenue investigators are exploring.
Senator Franken wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to come back and testify before his committee after a report alleging that he spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Mr. Sessions testified earlier this year that he didn’t speak with Russian officials about the campaign.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has also issued a subpoena for Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the political firm that employed a former British spy to compile a dossier of unverified information for Mr Trump’s political opponents about his past trips to Moscow, after he refused to testify voluntarily.
Senators Grassley and Feinstein said in a statement: ‘Glenn Simpson, through his attorney, has declined to voluntarily attend Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing regarding compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Therefore, a subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance.
‘Simpson’s attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena.’
Mr Schiff said yesterday that the president is ‘clearly worried’ about the scope of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to oversee the FBI probe into possible ties with Russia, and was disturbed by Mr Trump’s criticism of his Attorney General Jess Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
‘It does concern me that the president should bring this up now if it’s an indication that he wants to somehow push Sessions out and get in a new attorney general who would then take Rod Rosenstein’s place as supervising the Mueller investigation,’ said the senator, referring to the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr Mueller as special counsel.
He added: ‘If this is part of a longer-term stratagem to define or confine the scope of the Mueller investigation, that would be very concerning.’
Mr Schiff claimed that inconsistencies in the versions given by members of Mr Trump’s inner circle are ‘part of a pattern.’
‘If the members of the Trump team were honest, and transparent, and forthcoming about these things, it would raise a lot less questions. But, of course, that has not been the case,’ he added.
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