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Trump’s Senate Allies Gear Up Investigations of Russia Probe

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/4/2020 Steven T. Dennis and Billy House

(Bloomberg) -- Allies of President Donald Trump leading the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees are gearing up for sweeping investigations targeting the Russia probe that began during the Obama administration.

Although Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson haven’t proposed demanding information from former President Barack Obama or his vice president, Joe Biden, the politically charged probes are intended to wrap up shortly before the November election between Biden and Trump.

Johnson’s committee authorized subpoenas for documents and communications from the FBI, State Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as from 33 individuals, including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and ex-FBI director James Comey.

Republican Mitt Romney of Utah said he wouldn’t oppose the subpoena authority despite worrying they were politically motivated.

And numerous heated exchanges in the Judiciary Committee led Graham to postpone a vote for a week on authorizing subpoenas of numerous former Obama-era officials, including Brennan, Clapper, Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The Judiciary panel is reviewing the origins of the investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign’s role.

Trump has promoted a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration and anti-Trump factions within the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department improperly tried to undermine his 2016 election campaign and transition into office.

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“The conduct we know that occurred during the transition should concern everyone and absolutely warrants further investigation,” said Johnson in opening Thursday’s Homeland Security panel meeting.

“It is our job to investigate and provide the American people a complete accounting of what happened during the last transition,” Johnson told fellow committee members. “Hopefully the agencies and individuals will cooperate.”

Others being targeted for subpoenas by Johnson’s committee include former FBI special agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The pair are regular foils for Trump and his supporters, who’ve depicted them as key players in the alleged conspiracy in which the FBI unfairly investigated allegations of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Rosenstein Grilled

Republicans on Graham’s committee grilled former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a hearing Wednesday over his role in appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and approving a widely criticized FISA warrant extension against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Graham said he supported Mueller’s appointment as special counsel and said the former FBI director is a good man. But he also noted the many errors found by the Department of Justice inspector general in a warrant against Trump ally Carter Page, as well as a rebuke of the FBI by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“The court has issued a stunning rebuke of the FBI. Isn’t it part of our job to try to find out what happened?” Graham said. Graham also said he wants to know more about why the Justice Department prosecuted Michael Flynn, who resigned as Trump’s national security adviser and currently is trying to withdraw his guilty plea for lying to federal agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Top Judiciary Democrat Dianne Feinstein called the partisan subpoena proposal targeting 53 officials unprecedented in her decades on the committee.

‘Dragnet Authority’

“I can’t support this kind of dragnet authority to conduct politically motivated investigations,” she said.

Graham said he was prepared to call Mueller to testify at Feinstein’s request but said it might be better to call someone else from the former special counsel’s team instead.

Feinstein insisted the Democrats want Mueller to testify, calling him “a man of extensive brain cells.”

The hearing grew heated at times, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas accusing the Obama administration’s justice system of corruption in going after Trump associates.

Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said the committee was on the verge of going on a “political errand” on behalf of Trump.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a Republican, ripped members of both parties for what he called grandstanding for the cameras, drawing a rebuke from Graham.

Hunter Biden

Johnson last week won support from Republicans on the Homeland Security panel to subpoena a company in his investigation of Biden’s son Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian energy company’s board while his father was vice president.

Democrats dismiss the efforts as ill-timed political hunts into Republican conspiracy theories floated by Trump about a deep-state cabal to take him down. They’ve said the committees should focus on the coronavirus pandemic and police violence instead.

Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, questioned the timing of what he called an “unprecedented” request for the committee to authorize three subpoenas of agencies and 33 subpoenas of individuals.

Peters also questioned the timing of such action as the nation deals with the coronavirus and civil unrest following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The large number of subpoenas “gives an appearance of a fishing expedition,” said Peters, who added that the pursuit “did not become a priority until we entered an election year.”

(Updates with lawmaker quotes from 17th paragraph)

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