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Senate intel committee grilling ex-Trump campaign members in Russia probe



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by Katy Tur

Senate intelligence committee investigators are interviewing former members of President Donald Trump's campaign as they seek evidence of possible collusion with Russia, asking a witness on Friday for new questions about the president's business relationships and how he formulated his policies towards Moscow.

Sam Nunberg, who worked for Trump and his campaign in 201

5, said he was questioned at a closed-door meeting at Capitol Hill on Trump's trip to Moscow in 2013, the interest of his company in building a tower and specific relationships between campaign members and foreign actors who may have worked with Russia.

"They are doing a comprehensive investigation," Nunberg told NBC News after his interview, which he said appeared to be "strictly focused on collusion".

Nunberg's recollection of the events of the day provided a first-hand account of how commissioners like Trump worked. the presidency enters its third year.

Trump strongly denied that there was a collusion between his campaign and Russia. Special adviser Robert Mueller is investigating separately on the possibility of collusion.

Senate Committee staff, chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, continued Friday in a closed-door interview to press on that line of inquiry. [19659007] Investigators went through a "checklist" of questions, Nunberg said, including if he had been aware of any conversations or reports during his time with Trump about Russian banks, Russian oligarchs, or trade with Russia.

Nunberg, who sat with committee staff for four and a half hours, said that he was asked several times how Trump formulated his political positions regarding Russia. Trump has expressed his support for numerous foreign policy positions beneficial to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nunberg said that he told the committee that Trump, as a candidate, said he "would take the position of being happy that Russia was in Syria".

At the time, Nunberg said the position did not raise red flags because he saw it as being in line with Trump's general opinion that the United States should not be involved in the Middle East. Nunberg said the campaign was asking questions about how he saw US involvement in Syria.

Also of interest to investigators, said Nunberg, was the campaign report with the National Rifle Association and the efforts of a Russian citizen to get a meeting with Trump through the NRA. Nunberg says he told investigators on Friday that he was aware of the efforts of Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty last month for conspiring with a Russian official to interfere in American politics, to look for a meeting with Trump, using the ; NRA as a channel.

Investigators also prodded Nunberg with questions prompting him to try to define specific relationships between Trump campaign and organization members and external actors, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Last year, Nunberg made a whirlwind media tour stating that he would not comply with a subpoena from the special advisor's office. But he eventually reversed his course and sat down for interviews with Mueller's investigators. He also testified before a large federal jury.

In an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nunberg said that he was asked by several former members of the campaign staff, the sons of the president and other members including: Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Tom Barrack, Michael Cohen, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump. He was also asked about Trump's relationship with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch, and his son pop singer, Emin, who helped organize the Trump Tower meeting in 2016.

Nunberg said he was not asked about the son of the president-in- law and current White House advisor, Jared Kushner.

Sam Nunberg, former campaign helper for Donald Trump, leaves the federal court in Washington on March 9, 2018. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images files

Other topics raised Friday, Nunberg said, were the 2016 meeting in the Trump Tower in New York with Trump Jr, Manafort, Kushner and a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin offering them the promise of "filth" on the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton; Trump's trip to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe competition; the company's interest in building a tower in the Russian capital.

Nunberg said he was surprised by the interest in a tower in Moscow, since the official position of the campaign was that it would not seek new agreements with foreign countries. Nunberg said he was asked to review public statements, e-mails, tweets and text messages obtained by investigators regarding potential Russian interference.

Nunberg described the committee's investigations as professional and bipartisan. "If I were the White House, I would be worried," said Nunberg, who joined the campaign early but was fired in August 2015 after the allegedly bred Facebook posts were discovered. Later he apologized.

Unlike Russia's investigation of the House Intelligence Committee, which was closed by the Republicans last spring for the protest of the Democrats, the Senate committee probe proceeded deliberately and largely non-partisan. Led by Burr and Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the group broke its five-part investigation and began issuing preliminary results and recommendations last fall.

These separate reports include: an analysis of the intelligence community's assessment of Russia's interference in the 2016 elections; The use of social media by Russia and how social media companies have dealt with the abuse of their platforms; as the administration of the FBI and Obama has addressed the activities of Russia and informed the public; an assessment of the security preparedness of federal and state elections; and if Trump's campaign officials worked with the Russians.

The last question is potentially the most difficult for legislators in the committee to reach consensus and may not be fully granted until the special advisor presents his final report.

Burr said he still hopes to receive further testimony from Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer of the president, who will appear publicly before the House Supervisory Committee next month.

Cohen pleaded guilty last month to lie to Congress on the interest in building a Trump tower in Moscow.

Flynn, who was Trump's first national security advisor, pleaded guilty to lied to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador and is working with the special adviser. Manafort, who served as president of Trump's election campaign in 2016, pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy count and an obstruction of justice related to witness tampering.

Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor contributed. ]
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