Dem questions FBI chief's commitment to Russia review

Dem questions FBI chief's commitment to Russia review
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Monday he’s seen little sign that FBI Director James Comey is ready to cooperate with the panel’s investigation of potential ties between Russia and President Trump’s campaign.

“I have yet to be convinced … by the director of the FBI that we will have the fulsome kind of cooperation that we will need,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffHouse briefed on anti-ISIS campaign progress The Hill's 12:30 Report Schiff: Trump's undisclosed talk with Putin 'deeply troubling' MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters in the Capitol.  

The Democrats have been irate with Comey since October, when, just days before the presidential election, he publicly announced a new development in the FBI’s investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonMaxine Waters is joking about 2020 — but not about Trump How Florida explains our polarized politics Dem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' MORE's use of a private email server while secretary of State.  

Democrats were outraged by the move, asserting that the FBI director was trying to shift the election advantage to Trump. And Schiff’s comments on Monday are further indication that those tensions haven’t dissipated as Democrats in both chambers push for a robust review of potential Trump-Moscow ties.  

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Schiff is warning that the Intelligence Committee simply lacks the resources to do a thorough investigation without the full cooperation of Comey and his FBI.

“We can’t become the FBI, we can’t send out our own investigators spanning all over the globe,” Schiff said. “We will need their cooperation, and whether we will get that in as fulsome a manner as we need has yet to be determined, in my view.” 

Schiff’s hastily called press conference came in response to another unexpected briefing just a few hours earlier from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Nunes pushed back hard against recent media reports indicating direct associations between the Kremlin and Trump administration officials. 

Nunes said he’s seen “no evidence” of such ties.

“What I’ve been told, by many folks, is that there’s nothing there — but we’re absolutely looking into it,” Nunes said.

A day before, Nunes had warned that the investigation — particularly the Democrats’ calls for an independent, outside panel akin to the 9/11 Commission — risks revisiting the era of McCarthyism. 

Schiff, for his part, rejected both characterizations. 

“We haven’t obtained any of the evidence yet, so it’s premature for us to be saying that we’ve reached any conclusion about the issue of collusion,” he said. “In order for us to make that determination, we’re going to need the FBI to come in and testify about what they’ve looked at and what they haven’t; what they’ve found and what they didn’t; and what leads are yet to be investigated. 

“We’ve had none of that.” 

Schiff said both he and Nunes had “preliminary discussions” with Comey, while also requesting that the FBI director brief the full House Intelligence panel, as he’s done with the Senate committee.  

“But beyond that, we need really to get a full debriefing on everything that the FBI has looked at — what have they investigated?” he said. “And at this point, I’m not clear that we’re going to get that. I don’t have the assurances that I’d like to have from the bureau.” 

Schiff noted that there’s been a tradition at the FBI of not commenting on investigations, active or otherwise. But Comey’s politically charged announcement in the Clinton email case, he said, eliminates any claims the agency has to withholding information from Congress in the Russia investigation.  

Comey “violated [that policy] in the extreme as we got closer to the election,” Schiff said. “So among other things, I think it’s insupportable for the bureau to take a position, 'We could talk about [Clinton, but] we can’t talk about any investigation involving the Trump campaign.' 

“That’s not going to be sustainable.”