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Former Trump aide Manafort offers to talk to committee in Russia probe

Donald Trump's former campaign manager has volunteered to be questioned by legislators as part of a probe into the Kremlin's alleged meddling in the presidential election.

Paul Manafort is a key figure in investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, told reporters that Mr Manafort's counsel had contacted the panel on Thursday to offer the opportunity to interview him.

Mr Nunes said the scope and setting of the questioning has not yet been determined.

Mr Manafort volunteered to be interviewed by the committee the same week the Associated Press reported that a decade ago he worked for a Russian billionaire.

Mr Manafort wrote in a strategy memo obtained by the AP that he would work to "benefit the Putin government".

Mr Nunes said a previously scheduled public hearing with former Obama administration officials would not take place on Tuesday as planned.

He said his focus for people to interview is primarily current and former government officials with insight into the investigation. Asked about whether he would call Trump associates, he said people can volunteer to be interviewed if they want to.

"We're not going to get into a neo-McCarthyism era here where we just start bringing in Americans because they were mentioned in a press story," he said. "I'm highly concerned about that. Now, if people want to come in freely, we will do that."

The senior Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, disagreed with the chairman's decision to cancel the public hearing. The former directors of national intelligence and the CIA and the former acting attorney general had agreed to testify publicly on March 28.

"I think this is a serious mistake," Mr Schiff said.

He said the committee's hearing on Monday demonstrates how important it is that these inquiries be conducted publicly. During that hearing, FBI director James Comey confirmed there was an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation into whether Trump associates co-ordinated with the Russians to influence the 2016 election.

"That, of course, is very significant information for the public," Mr Schiff said.

In a statement, Mr Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni, said the former Trump campaign chairman had agreed to specifically "provide information voluntarily regarding recent allegations about Russian interference in the election".

The statement left open whether he will agree to discuss his previous work as an international political consultant in eastern Europe.

Mr Manafort, who was working as a political consultant for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine at the time, pitched a wide-ranging political influence campaign to aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He eventually signed a 10 million dollar annual contract with Mr Deripaska beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Mr Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

In a statement to the AP earlier this week, he confirmed that he worked for Mr Deripaska, but denied that the work had been to advance Russia's interests.

AP

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