SCHIFF STOKES Flames On RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced Wednesday a broad investigation his committee would undertake “beyond Russia” into whether President Donald Trump’s financial interests are driving his actions.
Schiff said the investigation would “allow us to investigate any credible allegation that financial interests or other interests are driving decision-making of the President or anyone in the administration.”
“That pertains to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else,” Schiff told reporters after the House Intelligence Committee’s first meeting in the new Congress.
In a statement, Schiff said the investigation would include a continued probe into Russia’s actions during the 2016 election and contacts between the Russia and Trump’s team, as well as an examination of “whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”
The investigation will examine the “scope” of the Kremlin’s influence campaigns on American politics, both in 2016 and afterwards, and “any links/and or coordination” between anyone in the Trump orbit—the campaign, transition, administration, or, critically, the president’s businesses—and “furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.” It will also look at whether “any foreign actor,” not only Russians, has any “leverage, financial or otherwise” over Trump, “his family, his business, or his associates”—and whether such actors actively “sought to compromise” any of those many, many people.
A related line of inquiry will examine whether Trump, his family, and his advisers “are or were at any time at heightened risk of” being suborned by foreign interests in any way. That includes a vulnerability to foreign “exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion.” All that makes it very likely that the committee examines Trump administration policy—think the Syria pullout, or ex-national security adviser and admitted felon Mike Flynn’s attempts to work with Russia’s military in Syria, or Trump’s infamous Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin—through that lens.
And then comes a highly touchy subject.
Schiff said that the committee will also probe whether anyone, “foreign or domestic,” currently or formerly sought to “impede, obstruct and/or mislead” the intelligence committee’s investigation or any others, meaning Mueller’s or the Senate intelligence committee’s own inquiries. And that, he said, includes “those in the Congress.”
That creates the prospect that Schiff’s House Republican colleagues, including the ex-chairman and current committee ranking member, Devin Nunes of California, may come under scrutiny themselves. Some of Schiff’s Democratic colleagues already suspect Nunes of continued coordination with the White House to compromise the committee. And many observers of the various investigations took notice when CNN reported this weekend that key Nunes staffer on the committee, Kash Patel, was set to take a White House job on the National Security Council.
Republicans on the committee, led by Nunes, made several motions on Wednesday that were rejected by Democrats.
They sought to immediately make public the committee’s interview transcripts conducted in an unclassified setting, which includes most of the panel’s Russia interviews. Nunes in a statement slammed an “unacceptable delay” in the executive branch’s declassification process.
And Republicans sought to issue subpoenas to a dozen officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, according to Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah.
Schiff said that the Democrats rejected the GOP motions because there was personally identifiable and some classified material contained in the unclassified transcripts, and the committee wouldn’t issue subpoenas before offering to bring in witnesses voluntarily.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence estimated that the transcripts would be ready for public release in May or June, Schiff said, and he hoped to speed up that process by releasing some of the transcripts that were already ready first.
The committee also took its first action Wednesday in the new Congress, voting to send more than 50 transcripts from its Russia investigation interviews to Mueller. The panel approved the motion to send the transcripts by voice vote, according to Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.
The committee already sent one transcript to Mueller in December after the special counsel’s office requested Roger Stone’s interview. Federal prosecutors accused Stone of lying to the committee in his seven-count indictment last month.
Schiff has said that he wanted to send the transcripts to Mueller for review to see whether any other witnesses who appeared before the committee committed perjury. The transcripts are likely to be transmitted by the end of the day, Schiff said.
And in addition to what the committee voted to give Mueller, Schiff committed to publicly releasing “all investigation transcripts” before the committee—though he didn’t commit to any timetable, in the interests of “continued pursuit of important leads and testimony.” That corresponds with another move Schiff and the committee made on Wednesday: to delay Friday’s scheduled closed-door testimony of Cohen until Feb. 28, something neither the committee nor the Cohen camp has yet explained beyond vague allusions to investigative interests.
Ahead of Schiff’s announcement, the committee’s Republicans issued a release welcoming release of all the witness transcripts and called on the Democrats to “immediately” publish all the unclassified ones. And in a reversal of positions following the November election, they wanted Democrats to accede to Republican requests to “subpoena numerous witnesses whose testimony the Democrats had previously sought.” That might be one of the last bipartisan moves on a committee that hasn’t made many since the first version of the Trump-Russia investigation began.
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