Lawmakers vow to move ahead with Russia probes

Lawmakers vow to move ahead with Russia probes
© Greg Nash

Congress is plowing forward with its various investigations into Russian interference in the election and links to President Trump’s campaign even as a special counsel begins to run the federal probe.

Lawmakers attending closed-door briefings with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, said they are determined to move ahead with their own efforts after the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor.

A special counsel has the broad authority to conduct a sweeping probe largely unaccountable to Congress, raising fears that Mueller could limit what documents congressional investigators receive or who can appear before their committees.

But leaders of the House Intelligence Committee’s probe on Friday brushed aside concerns their investigation could be complicated by Mueller’s probe.

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“I don’t see any impediments to anything that we would like to do as a result of Mueller coming in to take over an investigation that was already going on in the Justice Department,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who is leading the Intel panel’s probe following the recusal of chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Lawmakers typically “deconflict” committee investigations with any concurrent Justice probes to avoid trampling on prosecutorial turf — by providing congressional immunity to someone Justice may later wish to pursue, for example.

“We were always going to have to set up some sort of deconfliction process with Justice,” Conaway said.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam SchiffDem ‘astounded’ by how much Trump casts himself as victim Congress to take up North Korea travel ban legislation as soon as next month: report It's time for Republicans to play offense while Democrats are weak MORE (D-Calif.) said there was already a need to coordinate with Justice prior to Mueller's appointment.

“Now we’ll have those conversations with Bob Mueller, instead of others at the Justice Department,” Schiff said Friday.  

Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: New questions about 'ransomware' attack | Tensions between NSA chief, Trump over Russia | Senate panel asks states to publicize election hacks Trump trolling of Comey — not presidential Senate panel to get Comey memos: report MORE (R-N.C.) and Mark WarnerMark WarnerOur national parks need updates; Congress can help Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions about 'ransomware' attack | Tensions between NSA chief, Trump over Russia | Senate panel asks states to publicize election hacks Senate panel to get Comey memos: report MORE (D-Va.), the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have also said that their investigation will continue in the wake of Mueller’s announcement.

Warner said Thursday that he and Burr are working to sit down with Mueller as soon as next week to coordinate the jurisdictional boundaries of their investigations.

In two back-to-back briefings with the Senate and the House this week, Rosenstein reportedly provided assurances that the various investigations could operate in harmony with special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe.

Rosenstein on Thursday revealed to lawmakers that the FBI’s probe is no longer strictly a counterintelligence investigation — a kind of probe that does not normally result in charges — but also a criminal one.

That distinction, more than the appointment of Mueller, could draw jurisdictional lines around certain witnesses, outside experts with experience in congressional investigations say.

The two intelligence committees are probably the least likely to be impacted by the criminal nature of the FBI’s probe — because their broader focus is how Russia was able to interfere in the U.S. election, not solely whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with Moscow.

“In many ways our purview is broader than what may be some of the Justice Department/FBI investigation," Warner told reporters Thursday.

Two other committees are also investigating issues related to Russia’s interference in the election, the House Oversight Committee and a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Graham Wasserman Schultz: Trump's views of women 'absolutely disgusting' The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senators: Trump attack on MSNBC hosts 'beneath the dignity' of his office MORE (R-S.C.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGraham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (D-R.I.).

Oversight is probing whether there has been any political interference from the White House into the FBI’s probe. Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaffetz tweets 'bye bye' to office cot Chaffetz: Money 'partly' responsible for decision to leave Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Utah) is pushing to have former FBI Director James Comey testify on his controversial dismissal, a decision that President Trump has publicly linked to the FBI’s investigation.

Rosenstein gave Mueller control of not only the investigation into whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia but also any other matters that “may arise directly from the investigation” — like Comey’s dismissal.

The potentially overlapping scope of those two probes has raised speculation that Comey may not be able to appear before Congress, despite a chorus of requests from committees in both the House and Senate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the full Judiciary Committee have also requested Comey’s appearance.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said Thursday on CNN that he is “pretty confident” Comey will appear before the Oversight Committee, possibly as soon as next week.

Graham, whose subcommittee is focused on Russia’s methodology, has expressed the most explicit concern that his investigation will be limited by the developments in the federal probe.

“I think it pretty well at a minimum limits it, maybe just takes us out of the game,” he said Thursday. “It’s going to be hard for us. … Public access to what happened is going to be very limited now because of a special counsel and I don’t want to get in his way.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTea Party chief on McConnellCare: Amend it or kill it GOP senator: 'Everybody wants to get to yes' on healthcare Paul: ‘I get the sense we’re still at an impasse’ on healthcare MORE (R-Ky.) has repeatedly argued that the appropriate place for any investigation into Russian interference is in the Intelligence Committees.

Leadership in both chambers has insisted that the investigations will go forward independent of Mueller’s appointment.

McConnell said the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation will proceed in a statement given immediately following Mueller’s appointment.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Ryan Wasserman Schultz: Trump's views of women 'absolutely disgusting' The Hill's 12:30 Report Ryan: Trump's 'Morning Joe' attacks not appropriate MORE (R-Wis.) has also said repeatedly that Mueller’s appointment in no way eliminates the need for Congress to continue its examination into the Russia question.

“These bipartisan, bicameral investigations — House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee — are going to continue their investigations,” Ryan said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “We’re going to keep doing our jobs — keep our Russia investigations going.”