WASHINGTON ― The House Intelligence Committee will investigate ties between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team and the Russian government as part of a broader probe into Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.
The six-page document outlining the full scope of the committee’s investigation remains classified, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday night. But the statement said the probe will focus on the following questions:
What Russian cyber-activity and other active measures were directed against the United States and its allies?
Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. persons?
What was the U.S. government’s response to these Russian active measures and what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future?
What possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community Assessment of these matters?
The outline of the investigation represents a compromise between Democrats, who have pressed for more information about possible ties between the president and the Kremlin, and Republicans, who have sought to downplay the intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow hacked Democratic entities with the aim of helping Trump win the election.
Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, warned Monday against conducting a “witch hunt” against the president and Russia, and he suggested that the committee should focus on rooting out the source of government leaks, which helped bring the scandal to light.
The committee will conduct interviews, take witness testimony and review the material that supported the intelligence community’s January finding that Russian cyber-activity was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances of becoming president. It will also review the intelligence community’s “analytic standards” and investigate the “leaks of classified information,” according to the statement.
The announcement from the House Intelligence Committee follows growing calls from Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans to further probe connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Intelligence and law enforcement officials working on an FBI-led investigation found that members of Trump’s campaign team had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials in the months before the election, The New York Times reported. The Trump administration and the campaign officials cited in the Times report deny any wrongdoing. Trump said on Monday that he hasn’t “called Russia in 10 years.” He visited the country in 2013.
But links between the Trump team and Moscow have already sunk one top adviser. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser last month after The Washington Post revealed that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Moscow with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump entered the White House ― and subsequently lied to the media and to Vice President Mike Pence about the contents of their discussions.
The House Intelligence panel’s investigation will occur alongside a separate ongoing probe by the Senate Intelligence Committee. But Democrats fear that Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, could hamstring the inquiries.
Nunes, who was a member of Trump’s transition team, has preemptively dismissed ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials. “It’s been looked into, and there’s no evidence of anything there,” he told reporters Monday. Both Nunes and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, were recruited by the White House to rebut news stories about Trump-Russia connections.
“It’s been looked into, and there’s no evidence of anything there.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)
Republican leadership has so far resisted calls for a bipartisan select committee, which would give Democrats a greater ability to subpoena witnesses and preserve records obtained in the investigation.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who headed Trump’s national security advisory committee during the campaign, has been ambiguous about whether he will step aside and appoint an independent prosecutor to head the Justice Department’s investigation into alleged communications between members of the president’s campaign team and Moscow.
Sessions spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year, The Washington Post reported Wednesday night. He did not disclose those discussions to lawmakers when asked what he would do if he came across evidence of communications between members of the Trump team and the Russian government during the campaign.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he said during his January confirmation hearing. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Justice Department officials told The Washington Post that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in his role as a lawmaker, not in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser. Still, the revelations will likely raise the specter of impropriety of Sessions overseeing the investigation.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who backed Trump in the election, joined Democrats last Friday in calling on Sessions to turn over the investigation to an independent prosecutor.
“Any review conducted must have the full confidence of the American people, which is why I recommended an independent review.”