Senate hearings turn spotlight on President's family

Mr Jared Kushner, seen here with his wife Ivanka Trump, is set to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr Donald Trump Jr (top) and Mr Paul Manafort (above) are to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr Jared Kushner, seen here with his wife Ivanka Trump, is set to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
Mr Jared Kushner, seen here with his wife Ivanka Trump, is set to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr Donald Trump Jr (top) and Mr Paul Manafort (above) are to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr Donald Trump Jr (above) and Mr Paul Manafort are to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
Mr Jared Kushner, seen here with his wife Ivanka Trump, is set to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr Donald Trump Jr (top) and Mr Paul Manafort (above) are to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr Donald Trump Jr and Mr Paul Manafort (above) are to meet privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

US President Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr and former campaign manager Paul Manafort appear to have avoided a public hearing before a Senate committee on Wednesday, in return for turning over all their records to the committee.

"The Judiciary Committee will talk to Trump Jr & Manafort before they testify in public, but we will get answers," Senator Dianne Feinstein tweeted on Friday.

The committee investigating alleged Russian influence on last year's presidential election that brought Mr Trump to power has asked the younger Mr Trump and Mr Manafort to provide it with all documents related to a meeting they had with a Russian lawyer to obtain information damaging to then-candidate Trump's rival Hillary Clinton.

The documents are to be delivered by Aug 2. It was not clear when the private hearings will take place.

Meanwhile, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify tomorrow in a closed-door hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also probing alleged Russian influence in the election. Public or private, the hearings will turn the spotlight on Mr Trump's family, bringing the probe closer to the President himself.

The hearings are the more visible aspect of an investigation which includes a separate and reportedly widening probe by the FBI, headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"The President has two things to worry about," Professor Glenn Altschuler of American Studies at Cornell University said. "The most significant is the accumulation of information and evidence by Robert Mueller, which is going on in secret. The second is the congressional hearings which, whether private or public, are likely to fuel the story."

Questions will likely be wide-ranging, but will in particular focus on a meeting Mr Kushner, Mr Trump Jr and Mr Manafort had in June last year with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

In e-mail correspondence, 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.

But after reports of the meeting emerged, the President's son on July 11 released the e-mail correspondence leading up to it, saying he wanted to be transparent. Nothing came of the meeting, he said.

Subsequently, reports emerged that there were more people at the meeting than disclosed by Mr Trump Jr, including a well-connected Russian-American lobbyist.

The hearings will take place against a backdrop of feverish speculation in a liberal media largely hostile to President Trump - and publicly targeted by him - about possible collusion between his campaign and elements of the Russian establishment, and over his own links with Russia's strongman, President Vladimir Putin.

The central question is whether Mr Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians.

"I would be surprised if there is ever any definitive evidence of illegal collusion," history professor H.W. Brands, at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Sunday Times in an e-mail. "But the circumstantial evidence might be strong enough to force some resignations and conceivably - though still not likely - impeachment."

Part of the problem for the President, analysts say, is that his family is involved. "He followed a common business model, in which you bring your kids in to help run the business," political science professor Charles Bullock of the University of Georgia said. "The danger of that is, it makes it harder to deny awareness of what's happening."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Senate hearings turn spotlight on President's family'. Print Edition | Subscribe