Senate Judiciary Committee to question Trump campaign chairman in ongoing Russia probe

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTSIMJC

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Lawmakers said this week they will question Manafort in their ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. File photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

WASHINGTON — The scope of congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential contest came into sharper focus on Wednesday as lawmakers said they intended to question the former chairman of the Trump campaign and to determine whether Russian social media “trolls” were connected to Trump’s election efforts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to question former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and will subpoena him if necessary, according to the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. He said he and the committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, have agreed to try to bring Manafort before the panel for questioning about the government’s enforcement of a law requiring registration of foreign lobbyists. Feinstein’s office confirmed that they plan to question him.

Manafort would certainly also be asked about his participation in a Trump Tower meeting last summer with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and son-in-law, where the purpose was to hear potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer.

MORE: Trump Jr.‘s emails on Russia meeting raise question of what the president knew

Manafort disclosed the meeting in a package of information he provided to the Senate and House intelligence committees, who have been investigating potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, as is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed by the Justice Department as the special counsel.

“Obviously it would be appropriate for anybody to get into anything that went on at that meeting, and he was at that meeting,” Grassley told Iowa reporters.

A person close to Manafort said that he hasn’t yet received a letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee about a possible interview. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Manafort’s private interactions with the committee.

MORE: Why Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting to discuss damaging Clinton info matters
Separately, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said his panel wants to look at the use of Russian social media “trolls” and whether they were connected to the Trump election campaign.

That concern is “certainly something we want to explore,” along with the Trump campaign’s data analytics, as part of a broader committee investigation into Russian meddling, Schiff said. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, oversaw digital strategy for the campaign.

The lawmakers spoke one day after Donald Trump Jr. disclosed on Twitter a series of emails that revealed his eagerness to hear negative material on Clinton from a Russian lawyer.

The exchange showed Trump Jr. conversing with a music publicist who wanted him to meet with a “Russian government attorney” who supposedly had dirt on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” He was told the Russian government had information that could “incriminate” Clinton and her dealings with Russia.

“I love it,” Trump Jr. said in one email response.

On Wednesday, the president declared in a tweet that his son was “open, transparent and innocent.” Defending his son’s conduct, Trump again dismissed the ongoing Russia investigation as the “greatest Witch Hunt in political history.”

The president’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” that Trump Jr. did not violate any laws by accepting the meeting. He said the president had not been aware of Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting and didn’t find out about his son’s email exchange until “very recently.”

Sekulow said the president was not being investigated by Mueller. “I would know a little bit about it. I’m one of the lawyers,” Sekulow told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

As the emails reverberated across the political world, Trump Jr. defended his actions in an interview with Fox News, blaming the decision to take the meeting on the “million miles per hour” pace of a presidential campaign and his suspicion that the lawyer might have information about “underreported” scandals involving Clinton. Trump Jr. said the meeting “really went nowhere” and that he never told his father about it because there was “nothing to tell.”

“In retrospect I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said.

Investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign have shadowed the White House for months.

In an interview taped Wednesday, Trump told Christian broadcast station CBN that he believes he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “get along very, very well.” But he says Putin will always want “what’s good for Russia, and I want what’s good for the United States.”

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an off-camera briefing Wednesday that “our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible” when it comes to Russia.

Associated Press writers David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York, Julie Bykowicz, Mary Clare Jalonick, Michael Biesecker, Stephen Braun, Ken Thomas and Matthew Daly in Washington, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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