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Donald Trump Jr questioned by Senate investigators

[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump's eldest son was questioned at length behind closed doors Thursday by Senate investigators over possible connections between his father's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Donald Trump Jr, who serves as executive director of the Trump Organization, avoided news cameras and reporters and entered a meeting in the US Capitol complex with investigators of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He gave an opening statement lasting 10 to 15 minutes, Senate Democrat Dick Durbin told reporters, at the start of a meeting that lasted more than five hours.

"I answered every question posed by the committee... until both sides had exhausted their lines of questioning," Mr Trump Jr said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

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Mr Trump Jr, 39, became a key figure in the Russia probe after he agreed to a meeting with a lawyer linked to the Kremlin in June 2016.

Investigators probed Mr Trump Jr over his participation in the meeting.

"That's what this is about," said Mr Durbin, who attended the meeting with a handful of other senators. "That is the crucial event." The meeting at Trump Tower in New York, in which the campaign team was promised dirt on Donald Trump's rival Hillary Clinton, was also attended by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The New York Times reported it obtained a copy of Mr Trump Jr's opening remarks to investigators, in which he said he did not collude with Russia and acknowledged he wanted to see whether the information on Clinton was significant.

"To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out," he said, according to the Times.

"Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration." Mr Trump Jr said he entered the meeting with little way to verify the assertions by the meeting's facilitator.

"As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified" and the meeting amounted to nothing, he said.

The panel's interview of Mr Trump Jr was similar in format to that of Mr Kushner, who met with Senate and House intelligence committee staffers in July to discuss his ties to Russia.

Mr Kushner emerged from those meetings to stress that he "did not collude with Russia," and that his undisclosed meetings with Russian officials were "proper."

Mr Trump Jr acknowledged in July that he met last year with the lawyer, who was presented as an emissary of the Russian government in possession of potentially compromising information on Mrs Clinton.

President Trump has consistently rejected any idea of collusion, as has the Kremlin.

Congressional committees investigating Russia's alleged efforts to sway last year's US presidential election in Mr Trump's favour have sought to learn whether members of the Trump team conspired with Russia.

The committees have demanded documentation from and interviews with various campaign protagonists, including those in Mr Trump's inner circle. Lawmakers have indicated that some of them could be called to testify in public hearings.

Investigations by congressional committees are distinct from those conducted by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Justice.