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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan takes questions about the Senate health care bill during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein(reuters_tickers)
By Patricia Zengerle and Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON/PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday urged President Donald Trump's eldest son to testify to a congressional committee about alleged links between Trump's team and Russia in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
If he testified, Donald Trump Jr. would be the first member of the Republican president's inner circle of relatives and White House aides to give testimony to congressional investigations into the Russia allegations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, a Republican, planned to send a letter on Thursday to the younger Trump to ask him to appear before his committee in a public session, CNN reported.
Ryan, the top-ranking Republican in Congress, told a news conference he supported that.
"I think any witness who's been asked to testify in Congress should do that," Ryan said.
Accusations that Moscow interfered in the election and colluded with the Trump campaign have dominated Trump's first months in office. Russia denies meddling in the campaign, and Trump says there was no collusion.
Trump Jr. disclosed this week that he had met with a Russian lawyer last year who was said to be offering damaging information on Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. eagerly agreed to meet the lawyer, who he was told by an intermediary was part of Moscow's official support for his father's campaign, according to emails the son released this week.
The emails were the most concrete evidence that Trump's campaign might have been willing to accept Russian help to win the election, a subject that has also prompted an investigation by a federal special counsel.
Trump said in Paris on Thursday that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was a private attorney and not a Russian government lawyer, and that nothing of substance came of the meeting.
'WONDERFUL YOUNG MAN'
"My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast," he said at a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
U.S intelligence agencies said earlier this year that Russia sought to help Trump win the 2016 election by hacking private emails from Democratic Party officials and disseminating false information online.
Trump said it was normal in U.S. politics for campaign teams
to look into allegations about their opponents, as his son agreed to do before the meeting in June 2016.
"I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person or frankly Hillary,’ – that’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard," he said.
Watchdog groups filed a complaint against Donald Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chief Paul Manafort on Thursday with the federal agency that oversees elections, arguing the three violated the law by meeting with the Russian.
The complaint with the Federal Election Commission was signed by Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21 and two campaign lawyers involved with those groups.
The Russia allegations forced U.S. Attorney General Jeff
Sessions to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the election after media reports revealed he held undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak.
Sessions, who testified to Congress in June about his dealings with Russian officials, released a government form on Thursday dealing with contacts he has had with foreign nationals, including Russian government officials, but much of it was redacted.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Ginger Gibson and Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)