The House Intelligence Committee chairman said Friday that Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, has volunteered to be interviewed before his committee, which is investigating alleged ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia as well as the Kremlin’s activities in the 2016 election.
Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said that Manafort’s lawyer “contacted the committee yesterday to offer the committee the opportunity to interview his client.”
Nunes did not say whether the Manafort briefing would be public or take place behind closed doors, leaving the decision mostly up to Manafort himself.
“Our lawyers, Republicans and Democrats, will work with his lawyers to see what exactly he wants to do,” Nunes said.
“If he wants to come out in public and have a public hearing, he’s more than welcome to do that,” Nunes continued, adding that if Manafort preferred a closed setting that is “also fine.”
A Senate source said on Friday that Manafort had made the same offer to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is running a parallel investigation.
Manafort has retained Reginald Brown of law firm WilmerHale to represent him in the matter.
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed on Friday that the former Trump campaign chair had reached out to lawmakers.
“Mr. Manafort instructed his representatives to reach out to Committee Staff and offer to provide information voluntarily regarding recent allegations about Russian interference in the election,” Maloni said. “As Mr. Manafort has always maintained, he looks forward to meeting with those conducting serious investigations of these issues to discuss the facts.”
People familiar with the offer said that Manafort has agreed to an informal, closed-door discussion with committee staff. While he would not be administered the oath that accompanies formal testimony, federal law requires that he tell the truth in any communication with Congress.
Nunes also indicated Friday that the committee had asked FBI Director James Comey and NSA head Adm. Michael S. Rogers to return and brief the panel. Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday and confirmed the bureau was probing Russia’s role in the elections – as well as Trump aides’ possible ties to the Kremlin.
“We thank Mr. Manafort for volunteering and encourage others with knowledge of these issues to voluntarily interview with the committee,” Nunes added.
The newest developments cap a dramatic week of developments in Congress’s probe of alleged Russian meddling in the elections – and Trump campaign aides’ possible role in it.
On Monday, FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed in a public hearing of the Intelligence panel that the bureau was investigating Russia’s role in the elections and potential ties between the president’s associates and Kremlin officials.
On Wednesday, Nunes rushed to the White House to personally brief the president on new information he said he had seen that may show Trump and his aides were swept up in legal surveillance activities by the intelligence community during the presidential transition period. On Thursday, Nunes apologized to his colleagues for informing the public, and President Trump, about the fresh information before he spoke with them about it.
Ranking Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., did not mince words in signaling he believed the White House may have been behind the twists and turns of this week, discrediting the House probe in the process.
Schiff told reporters Friday that the events appeared to stem from the rejection by Comey in Monday’s public hearing – and repeated debunking by lawmakers, including Republicans – of Trump’s March 4 claims that he was wiretapped at Trump Tower by former President Barack Obama during the campaign.
Schiff pointed to what he called a “dead of the night” excursion this week by Nunes in which the chairman claimed to see intelligence that worried him pertaining to Trump and his associates.
“That effort to defend the indefensible has led us down this terrible rabbit hole and threatens the only investigation that is authorized in the House,” Schiff said, referring to Trump’s original wiretapping claims.
Schiff also “strongly objected” to the sudden cancellation by Nunes of an open hearing before the committee early next week by former acting attorney general Sally Yates (who was fired by Trump for refusing to back his first travel ban); former CIA Director James Brennan; and former director of national intelligence James Clapper Jr.
He argued that this week’s developments suggest the need for an independent commission and that the Intelligence probe may not be credible anymore.
As for whether he has lost faith in Nunes, Schiff said “the [House] speaker needs to decide just as well as our chairman whether there is a credible investigation here.”
Speaking to reporters Friday, Nunes said he is not expecting to receive the full trove of documents he referred to earlier in the week from intelligence agencies that would show whether individual names were “unmasked” as part of “incidental collection” through other surveillance, or legal surveillance of foreign entities that may pick up communications with American citizens.
“I don’t expect the entirety of everything that we need today, so I would hope that by early next week we would have better accounting of what the National Security Agency is able to provide us,” Nunes said, noting that the NSA is “fully cooperating” and that “it’s possible we will receive documents today.”
Under questioning from reporters, Nunes would not say – for a third day straight – whether the source who provided him with those documents came from or was affiliated with the White House. He only denied that the White House had orchestrated his decision to approach the press before briefing fellow committee members.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Karoun Demirjian, Tom Hamburger