Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug'

Senate Republicans are preparing to relitigate some of the biggest controversies of the 2016 election as they look to turn the page from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s probe.

After a two-year investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign, Republicans say there are still lingering, unanswered questions about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and the origins of the probe of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE and his aides.


As House Democrats eye follow-up investigations to pick up where Mueller left off, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Africa's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? If you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again MORE (R-S.C.) is signaling that he’ll use his high-profile panel to dig into areas he believes his colleagues have largely “swept under the rug” in the wake of the 2016 election.

“When it comes to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation has pretty much been swept under the rug except by a few Republicans in the House. Those days are over,” Graham told reporters during a press conference on Monday.

Graham wants bipartisan support for his investigative plans, but his probes are likely to only widen the already growing partisan gap on the Judiciary Committee. He warned on Monday that he is willing to subpoena officials as part of his investigation.

The panel’s initially bipartisan Russia probe derailed during the last Congress amid a break between then-chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, about the scope and direction of the investigation.

Grassley said on Monday that he would “absolutely” support Graham’s investigation and suggested that Democrats could be more amiable now that Mueller’s probe has concluded.

“I believe that now that the Mueller report is done it’s going to be a lot different,” he said. “Any effort to do it while I was chairman, the excuse I would have gotten was it looks like we’re interfering in the Mueller investigation.”

But tensions on the panel have grown since then, over an intense fight over Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump's Fed pick on critics: 'They're pulling a Kavanaugh against me' Conservative justices signal willingness to allow census citizenship question Supreme Court sees more serious divide open on death penalty MORE’s Supreme Court nomination and Republicans moving appeals court nominations in spite of the objections of Democratic home-state senators, including circuit nominees from Feinstein’s state who got a hearing earlier this month.

Asked if Graham’s plans threatened to make the Judiciary Committee more partisan, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat and a member of the panel, started laughing before adding, “yes.”

“If this is all we’re going to do, it might serve some campaign purpose but there are a lot of things we should be doing as a Judiciary committee,” Durbin said. “In all seriousness, and you can quote me, I hope Lindsey calms down, thinks this over, gets us back on track to do substantive things … rather than political scorekeeping.”

Trump and his allies have argued for months that high-profile officials within the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI were working to undermine his campaign and used kid gloves on the probe of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE’s emails, a story that loomed over the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump, who repeatedly called Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt,” said from the White House that some people “have done some very, very evil things” and suggested on Monday that those who perpetrated the investigation should “certainly be looked at.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, didn’t rule out that his panel could also probe allegations of misconduct by the DOJ and FBI officials during the Obama administration and 2016 campaign either on its own or by teaming up with Graham’s panel.

“I want to work very closely with Sen. Graham and his committee to get those answers,” Johnson said. “I think it would make an awful lot of sense to have the Senate oversight committee work with the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Graham was long a target of ire from conservatives because of his work with Democrats on immigration and support for legislation that would have protected Mueller from being fired.

But his stock skyrocketed among conservatives after he exploded at Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearing and accused them of trying to “destroy this guy’s life” after sexual assault allegations surfaced against Kavanaugh.

Graham, who is up for reelection in 2020 in a state where Trump remains popular, has emerged as a close ally of the president. Graham has stuck by Trump even as the president publicly lashed out at the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhy did Mueller allow his investigation to continue for two years? If you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era MORE (R-Ariz.), who was friends with the South Carolina senator.

Graham appeared incredulous when asked Monday if his close relationship with Trump made him biased in his role of overseeing the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is charged with oversight of the Justice Department.

“You’ve got to be kidding … I am an elected political official. I’m a Republican. I am going all over the country to speak to the Republican Party. I want Trump to win. I am chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I do my job very responsibly,” he said. “To suggest that if you are a Republican and that you want Trump to win, somehow you can’t do your job is absurd.”

His investigative plans will put him at stark odds with House Democrats, who are already eyeing potential spinoffs from Mueller’s findings and questions they view as left unanswered by the special counsel.

Mueller, according to a four-page letter Attorney General William Barr sent to lawmakers, did not find that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

The letter also says that Mueller made no conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice in the investigation into Russia’s election interference, but that Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinPoll: Majority says Barr's summary of Mueller report was 'largely accurate' Heavy lapses in judgment are politicizing the justice system Top Judiciary Republican reviews less-redacted Mueller report MORE, after reviewing Mueller’s findings, determined that they would not pursue an obstruction of justice charge — a decision Democrats are expected to litigate in Congress for the foreseeable future.

Though Graham wants Barr to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee, Senate Republicans signaled that they are ready to turn the page.

“I sincerely hope that now at last our friends on the left will be able to put aside their fixation on permanently relitigating their loss in 2016,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash MORE (R-Ky.) said from the Senate floor. “Actually join in the productive work that the rest of us have been proudly engaged in for the past two years and counting.”

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment Booker, Harris have missed most Senate votes Trump vetoes measure ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen MORE (R-Ky.), an ally of Trump’s, added in a tweet: “Time to investigate the Obama officials who concocted and spread the Russian conspiracy hoax!”