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Panels looking at Russian election meddling want to meet with Caputo again

WASHINGTON – East Aurora political consultant Michael R. Caputo likely will be heading back to Capitol Hill soon to speak to two more congressional committees about their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has contacted Caputo about a possible interview with staffers, as has the Democratic minority of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Caputo's lawyer, Dennis C. Vacco, confirmed on Tuesday.

Caputo spoke with the House Intelligence Committee last August, telling lawmakers that he had no contacts with Russian officials while working for the Trump presidential campaign.

That being the case, Caputo seemed surprised that the two Senate committees came to be interested in him six months later.

Caputo testifies he never spoke with Russians while working for Trump campaign

"When I was before the House Intelligence Committee, it was clear to me that it was a fishing expedition," Caputo said. "I'm so marginal in this bogus investigation that for these Senate committees to be interviewing me just now indicates they are still just fishing as well."

Lawmakers are interested in speaking with Caputo, a Republican who worked for the Trump campaign from November 2015 through late June of 2016, because he worked as a political consultant in Russia in the 1990s. In addition, Caputo runs a public relations firm with a Russian partner, and it has offices in Moscow.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, spelled out her reasoning in a letter to Caputo.

She noted Caputo's Russia ties as well as the fact that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager indicted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller last year, recommended Caputo to the Trump campaign. The letter also mentioned Caputo's ties to Roger Stone, long an unofficial adviser to Trump.

"Based on these longstanding ties to key campaign figures and Russia, we believe that you may have information that would assist the committee in its investigation relative to the 2016 presidential election," Feinstein wrote.

Feinstein – who, as part of the committee minority, does not have subpoena power – said she would like Caputo to appear before the committee sometime in February.

She also asked Caputo to send the Judiciary Committee a host of information before the meeting, including:

-- Any communications concerning Trump, Manafort or the presidential campaign and Russia, Ukraine, U.S. sanctions or a host of Russians with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

-- Any communications concerning any financial dealings between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to the former Trump campaign manager, or any contacts between Manafort and Ukrainian political figures allied with Russia.

-- Any communications regarding Manafort's role in the Trump campaign, or his indictment, or the indictment of Manafort aide Richard W. Gates III.

-- Any communications involving Trump, his campaign, transition team or businesses and Russian government officials or their associates.

Caputo said he will cooperate with the separate Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committee investigations.

"I'm eager to provide any input that is productive and meaningful in these investigations, although I can't imagine what that would be," he said.

But doing so, Caputo said, puts him under great financial pressure, given the mounting legal bills he faces because of the probe.

Vacco seemed annoyed that congressional committees continue to reach out to his client in their wide-ranging investigations in Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Senate staffers appeared interested not just in Caputo's business dealings in Russia from more than two decades ago, but also in the business he has done in Russia since Trump's inauguration, Vacco said.

Asked what that business was, Vacco said: "I'm not going to answer that question. I think it's irrelevant."

Vacco said the two Senate committees don't appear to be coordinating their work, nor seeking Caputo's written testimony from the House committee that interviewed him in August. Instead, he said, the Senate panels appear poised to ask Caputo to travel to Washington at least two more times to answer the same sort of questions he answered before the House Intelligence Committee.

"It's a form of harassment, in my opinion," Vacco said.

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