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EghtesadOnline: Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and veteran Republican political operative Roger Stone have offered to meet with a House committee investigating Russian interference in last year’s election.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told reporters Friday that it hasn’t been determined whether Manafort -- who has come under scrutiny for work he’s done for figures tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- will testify in public as well as in a closed-door meeting. A lawyer for Stone said he wants to testify in open session to rebut lawmakers who “have intimated that he has committed treason.”

According to Bloomberg, the inquiry by U.S. intelligence agencies into Russian meddling -- including the hacking and release of Democratic emails -- has expanded into the explosive question of whether anyone close to Trump abetted the effort.

FBI Director James Comey testified before Nunes’s panel on Monday that his agency’s investigation of Russian interference includes “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Trump and his spokesmen have denied any such collaboration.

Russian Billionaire

As early as 2005, long before he played a role in Trump’s election, Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire close to Putin and offered a plan to "greatly benefit the Putin Government," the Associated Press reported this week. Manafort also worked for a decade as an adviser to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Stone, a former business partner of Manafort, wants to appear before the House Intelligence panel “to redress the false and misleading way he has been portrayed” by some of its members, Robert Buschel, a lawyer for Stone, said in the letter to Nunes on Friday.

Describing Stone as a “self-proclaimed political dirty trickster,” Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said at Monday’s hearing that Stone communicated with Guccifer 2.0, an online persona that “acted as a front” for Russian intelligence. He said Stone also presciently predicted trouble for John Podesta, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, whose emails were later hacked and leaked.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer played down the role of the former aides this week. He described Stone as “somebody the president has known for a long time” and who “worked briefly on the campaign.” He said that Trump dismissed Manafort because “his ties to Ukraine were becoming a distraction” and Trump was behind in polls at the time.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the content of phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration.

Following Flynn’s dismissal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian probes after acknowledging that he met with Kislyak during the campaign.

Partisan Divisions

Partisan divisions within the intelligence panel were exacerbated by Nunes’s decision Friday to put off a public session scheduled for next week with former Obama administration officials. Democrat Schiff accused Nunes of caving in to White House demands to avoid discussion of a politically sensitive topic. 

“What other explanation can there be?” Schiff said to reporters.

Nunes angered Democrats on the committee when he announced on Wednesday that intelligence agencies collected multiple conversations involving members of Trump’s transition team during surveillance of foreign targets after he won election last year. He said the surveillance, which wasn’t targeted at Trump or related to Russia, appeared to be entirely legal.

The Republican took the unusual step of calling an impromptu press conference to discuss highly classified documents he hadn’t shared with fellow committee members and then heading to the White House to brief Trump on his allegations.

After the briefing, Trump, who had asserted on Twitter that Trump Tower in New York was “wiretapped” by his predecessor Barack Obama, said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’s findings.

“There has been an acknowledgment that there are documents out there that people were surveilled or monitored to some degree,” Spicer told reporters Friday. He said the information coming out continues “to show there was something there.”

Nunes said Friday that the March 28 committee hearing with the former Obama officials is being postponed to allow renewed questioning by the panel of Comey and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers.

Nunes said the two were being recalled to be interviewed behind closed doors on matters that weren’t fully addressed in the committee’s open hearing on Monday or in documents recently received by the committee.

"The committee will seek additional information from the Monday hearing that can only be addressed in closed session," said Nunes.

Donald Trump Paul Manafort US-Russia relationship Roger Stone