WASHINGTON — A surprise offer by Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, to “provide information” to congressional committees investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia may be far more limited than it first appeared, according to congressional sources and others familiar with the matter.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., revealed the offer in a press conference Friday, saying that Manafort’s lawyer had contacted his panel and offered the committee “the opportunity to interview his client.”
That quickly led many to assume there had been a major breakthrough and that Manafort would soon be under the television lights raising his right hand to testify under oath about what he knew about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. “Paul Manafort to Testify Before House Intelligence Panel,” read the headline in the New York Times.
But congressional sources say that the offer by Manafort’s lawyer, Reginald Brown, a former White House lawyer under President George W. Bush, was carefully hedged. There was no explicit promise to testify in public or address a broad range of questions that have been raised about Manafort’s business and lobbying work over the years for figures closely associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is an interview, not testimony,” Jason Maloni, Manafort’s spokesman, told Yahoo News. A statement by Maloni says only that Manafort is willing to provide information about “recent allegations about Russian interference in the election.” It says nothing about recent accusations regarding disguised payments made to Manafort from the political party of the pro-Putin former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, or his past work for Oleg Deripaska, a prominent pro-Putin oligarch — both of which have been cited by Democrats as evidence of close ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Moreover, there were immediate signs that the Senate intelligence committee, which is conducting its own investigation into the Russian matter, was in no rush to take up Manafort on his offer to talk behind closed doors.
“This is a PR stunt,” said one Senate source familiar with the offer made by Manafort’s lawyer. Although the panel will at some point want to hear from Manafort, the source added, “I doubt this will be on his terms.”
The limitation on Manafort’s offer is perhaps not surprising. His work for Yanukovych is reportedly under investigation by the FBI over questions about whether it was in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In addition, the AP this week reported that Treasury Department officials have obtained financial records from Cyprus relating to Manafort’s business dealings with Deripaska.
But whether Manafort will be willing to answer questions about those matters is far from clear. Asked whether Manafort will ask for immunity for anything he tells Congress, Maloni did not respond.
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