Congress investigates Trump-Russia ties

Congress investigates Trump-Russia ties

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the US Republican Congress have rejected calls by Democrats for a special counsel or select committee to investigate possible links between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, saying the committees’ investigations of Congress are sufficient.

US intelligence agencies said in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman to be hacked to influence elections on behalf of Trump.

Russia has denied it.

Three US agencies, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Department of Justice, initiated investigations into the matter during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama.

Additionally, here are some of the ways Congressional committees are investigating the matter:

HOUSEHOLD INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE – The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence began its investigation of possible Russian influence in the 2016 presidential race before Trump took office on January 20.

The panel’s chair, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, played a prominent role in Trump’s transition, leading some critics to question whether he was too close to the Republican president to conduct a fair investigation.

Some of Nunes’ statements contributed to his concerns, including his confirmation that he had spoken to reporters at the request of the White House to challenge reports that the Trump campaign had contact with Russia.

Nunes has also said that he doesn’t want the investigation to turn into a “witch hunt” like McCarthy’s congressional hearings in the 1950s on alleged ties of some Americans to communism.

Committee members had to push for full access to information collected by the CIA, FBI and other agencies, but more recently they have said their access has improved.

The panel will hold its first public hearing on the matter on March 20. FBI Director James Comey and the leaders or former leaders of most of the major US intelligence agencies have been invited to testify.

Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said he does not yet know if the panel is capable of conducting a credible investigation.

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE – The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is conducting its own investigation. It also started before Trump took office, it is considered the strongest action by Congress.

Its president, Richard Burr, was re-elected in November in the Republican sweep that brought Trump to power and preserved Republican control of Congress. Although he was a Trump supporter during the campaign, he is not as closely tied to the president as Nunes. But he also made calls to reporters when the White House tried to dispute allegations about campaign contacts with Russia.

Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, said he had “serious concerns” about the independence of the committee’s investigation after the report that Burr had helped the White House dispute the stories.

Burr and Warner have expressed fewer concerns than members of the House committee about the amount of information intelligence agencies have provided.

The Senate intelligence committee will hold an open hearing on Russian efforts to influence campaigns more generally on March 30. The witness list includes experts, not current officials from the Trump administration or the intelligence community.

SENATE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE – Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism, and Sheldon Whitehouse, his senior Democrat, announced that they too would investigate Russian attempts to influence the election.

They have also asked the FBI and the Justice Department to come up with any information that supports Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor heard him during the 2016 campaign.

The full Judicial Committee is also investigating. Its chairman, Chuck Grassley, and top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, have had officials briefing panel members.

Grassley and Feinstein also sent a joint letter to Comey requesting a briefing, transcripts and documents of the calls between Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

HOUSE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE – The committee’s Democrats tried to force the committee to ask the Justice Department to produce records of its investigation into whether Trump or his campaign had ties to Russia, but the panel’s Republicans blocked the effort.

The committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, said instead that he would urge the government to continue its investigation.

However, Goodlatte said he had asked the Justice Department to report to the committee and had not received a response.

HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE – Jason Chaffetz, the committee’s Republican chairman, has resisted calls to investigate the Trump administration. After Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser due to his calls to the Russian ambassador, Chaffetz said his panel would not discuss the issue.

However, he has signed letters seeking related information, and was one of the first lawmakers to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations because of his contacts with Kislyak.