Saturday, January 14, 2017

Intelligence Committee Will Investigate Possible Russia-Trump Links
The Senate panel could use subpoenas to secure testimony from Obama officials and the Trump team.

01/13/17 06:39 PM EST

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said late Friday that his committee will investigate possible contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, reversing himself one day after telling reporters that the issue would be outside of his panel’s ongoing probe into Moscow’s election-disruption efforts.

Burr and the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said in a joint statement that the committee's probe would touch on "intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns" as well as Russian cyberattacks and other election meddling outlined in an intelligence report released last week.

The committee will use “subpoenas if necessary” to secure testimony from Obama administration officials as well as Trump’s team, Burr and Warner said.

The bipartisan Senate announcement came hours after several House Democrats aired their frustrations with FBI Director James Comey following a classified briefing on Russian election disruption. The Democrats were livid that Comey refused to confirm whether he is conducting an inquiry into potential Trump ties to Russia — a question that he publicly declined to answer earlier this week.

Burr said late Thursday that he did not plan to touch on possible contacts between Trump emissaries and Russia, asserting that the issue likely falls under the FBI's purview. "We don't have anything to do with political campaigns," the Republican said.

But Warner had said during a Tuesday committee hearing that he wanted the probe to touch on possible contacts between Moscow or its emissaries and political campaigns, putting the two senators potentially at odds. Warner told reporters late Thursday that his view hadn't changed, meaning that the Friday joint announcement effectively brought Burr around to the Democrat's perspective.

The Senate move also creates a split with the House, where intelligence panel chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told POLITICO earlier on Friday that Congress should not be investigating any possible contacts between Russia and the Trump camp.

"House committees don't go operational like that, that I know of," said Nunes, who is a member of Trump's transition team. "It's a law enforcement issue."

A Nunes spokesman said late Friday that the Senate's decision had not changed the House chairman's view.

The joint announcement from Burr and Warner commits the Senate intelligence panel not only to probing possible Trump-Russia ties, but also to releasing "both classified and unclassified reports" that will include its conclusions and holding some open hearings. However, "the bulk of the committee's business" during the investigation will be tackled in private, the senators said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "have made it clear they expect any investigation into Russia’s involvement in our nation’s elections to be conducted in a bipartisan manner," Burr and Warner said.

Warner added in his own statement that although the intelligence panel is "clearly best positioned" to tackle a wide-ranging Russia investigation, he would not rule out supporting legislation "to empower whoever can do it right" if the committee runs into difficulties. The Virginian is among a group of Democrats who have yet to endorse a proposal from senior members of their party for a select committee that would look at Russia's election cyberattacks and cybersecurity in general.

Republicans in the House have taken a different tack, focusing on what they say are egregious leaks of Trump-related material to the media.

Nunes is one of several Republicans who have called for intelligence officials to probe those leaks, following the publication of an unverified 35-page "dossier" that alleges Russia had amassed compromising information about the president-elect. Trump himself raised the prospect that intelligence officials had leaked the document in a Wednesday news conference, saying "it would be a tremendous blot on their record."

But for Democrats still smarting from evidence that Russia interfered in the election in an effort to boost Trump's prospects, the Senate investigation may not be enough to assuage their anger over Comey's decision to stay quiet on the FBI's plans, particularly after the FBI director reopened his investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails just days before the election.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chaired the Democratic National Committee when Russians first gained access to its network in 2015, said in a statement after the House's Friday briefing that Comey "must clarify for the American people, the agency’s policies for investigating and alerting those who are hacked by foreign governments."

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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