WASHINGTON – The Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump’s eldest son during the 2016 election campaign said she’s ready to testify before the U.S. Senate and “clarify the situation behind this mass hysteria.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya in the expectation of receiving incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s White House campaign, according to emails Trump Jr. has publicly released. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.
The meeting raised new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Moscow, which are being scrutinized by federal and congressional investigators. These questions have only intensified as the identities of other Russia-connected participants have become known.
“I am ready to clarify the situation behind the mass hysteria, but only through lawyers or testifying in the Senate,” Veselnitskaya said in an interview with Kremlin-funded RT television broadcast Wednesday.
“If the Senate wishes to hear the real story, I will be happy to speak up and share everything I wanted to tell Mr. Trump,” she added. That appeared to be a reference to Veselnitskaya’s previous statement that the meeting with Trump Jr. focused on U.S.-Russian adoption policies and a U.S. sanctions law.
Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government. She has not responded to repeated attempts by a news agency to reach her for comment.
Congressional investigators have said they want to hear from all of those involved in the meeting. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr confirmed Tuesday that his panel is investigating it.
Referring to the emails released by Trump Jr., Burr said that “any intelligence out there that suggests somebody is of interest to us, we have to pursue it. … You’ve now got an email chain that makes this a very important aspect to get into.”
On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said “it’s still being worked out” whether some of the committee’s more high-profile witnesses, including Trump Jr. and Manafort, should testify publicly or privately. The Senate and House intelligence panels conduct most of their interviews in private, but occasionally hold open hearings.
Warner said that for Trump Jr., “he’s got no security clearances that I am aware of, so he should be able to testify in public.”
Trump Jr. and Manafort could also testify publicly in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting a separate investigation into Russian meddling. The GOP chairman of that panel, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, is asking them both to testify and wants them to appear before Congress’s August recess.
Grassley told Iowa reporters Wednesday that he’s been talking to Trump Jr.’s lawyer and “I didn’t get any pushback” when suggesting he testify this week. But he said “it’s kind of rushy” to call him in so quickly and also Democrats had requested documents and emails that they wanted to see before the hearing.
Grassley had said he would subpoena the witnesses if necessary.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will review a law that oversees the registration of foreign agents. The panel has been investigating one of the participants at the Trump Jr. meeting, Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer Rinat Akhmetshin, as part of its probe into the law.
Grassley said “it could be before the day’s out we’d have a date set.”
The top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said this week that special counsel Robert Mueller has cleared Trump Jr. and Manafort for public testimony. Mueller is conducting the Department of Justice’s investigation and Grassley has said he wants to avoid conflicts.
MARY CLARE JALONICK