GOP shifts focus to investigating Obama officials

Republicans are setting their sights on top Obama-era officials as they plan their own probe into the 2016 election.

Eager to move on from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign, GOP senators are gearing up to investigate the investigators. The idea is gaining traction with the Republican caucus, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (Ky.).

Mueller’s report hasn’t been released yet, but Republicans have seized on a four-page letter from Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Mueller report fades from political conversation Barr removes prisons chief after Epstein death MORE that summarized key conclusions of the two-year probe, including that Mueller "did not establish" that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE or members of his campaign coordinated or colluded with Moscow in its election interference.

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"Republicans believe that the FBI and [Department of Justice] — the top people — took the law in their own hands because they wanted [Hillary] Clinton to win and Trump to lose," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTwo-thirds of Republicans support 'red flag' gun laws: NPR poll Red flag laws won't stop mass shootings — ending gun-free zones will Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (R-S.C.)  said during an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto as part of a media blitz discussing his plans for an investigation.

He said that he will be looking at "abuse" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application process and the counterintelligence operation into Trump’s campaign, adding that "there will be a lot of inquiry as to how this all happened."

GOP senators are already naming former officials who would be at the top of their lists to question, including former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Barr predicts progressive prosecutors will lead to 'more crime, more victims' James Comey shows our criminal justice system works as intended MORE and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

"The Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction and doing oversight of the Department of Justice and the FBI, and so that ... is something we need to do. Trying to find out how this thing got off the rails and hopefully prevent it from happening again," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee.  

Cornyn rattled off a list of Obama-era officials he would want to speak with, including Lynch, former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanWebb: Questions for Robert Mueller A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Trump critic Brennan praises his Iran decision: I 'applaud' him MORE, and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, but he homed in on Comey.

"I think Director Comey is probably near the top. He’s the one who said that his intention of leaking memos of his conversation was designed to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. It just strikes me as some vindictiveness and animus toward the president motivating a lot of the action," Cornyn said.

Graham, who earlier this month teased that he wants to bring in Comey, added that the former official would be called to publicly testify and "will answer for your time as FBI director."

Comey has been a years-long source of ire for Trump, who fired the FBI director in May 2017. The White House initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey's handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server as the reason for his unusual firing, but Trump told NBC News days later that he was thinking about "the Russia thing" when he decided to fire Comey.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.), an ally of Trump, also wants a laundry list of former Obama officials' communications to be made public, including any communications from former President Obama about an investigation into the Trump campaign. Paul is also calling on Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Former DHS, intelligence leaders launch group to protect presidential campaigns from foreign interference Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief MORE to testify under oath.

"We need every ounce of information about the people at the very top of our intelligence community that were promoting the inclusion of this fake dossier," Paul said. "We based this investigation on a lie. We should investigate who the liars were."

Trump's allies have claimed that the Russia investigation was started because of information in the controversial opposition research dossier compiled against Trump.

But a 2018 memo from the House Intelligence Committee, which was controlled at the time by Republicans, found that the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump campaign officials had improper contacts with Russia was triggered by information the bureau obtained about George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFlynn, Papadopoulos to speak at event preparing 'social media warriors' for 'digital civil war' Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference Mueller hearings should lead Democrats to be shocked at abuse of justice system MORE, a former adviser to the campaign.

With Republicans losing control of the House, the center of gravity for a GOP counter investigation is shifting to the Senate, where Graham, an ally of Trump who is up for reelection in 2020, controls the high-profile Judiciary Committee.

Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Mueller’s investigation as a "witch hunt." In the wake of the report being handed over, he has seized on the idea that officials within the Obama Justice Department were using an investigation to try to undercut his campaign.

"How did this start? How did it start? You had dirty cops. You had people that are about FBI folks. I know so many. They are incredible people. But at the top, they were not clean, to put it mildly. And what they did to our country was a terrible, terrible thing," Trump said during an interview with Sean Hannity.

It’s not the first time Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have floated trying to dig into the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, the FISA warrant application for Trump campaign aide Carter Page, the controversial opposition research dossier compiled against Trump or the origins of the FBI’s investigation into the campaign.

But a probe during the last Congress was derailed amid a disagreement between Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (R-Iowa), then the chairman of the committee, and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, about the scope and direction of the panel and concerns that it could bump heads with Mueller’s investigation and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But with Mueller’s probe wrapped and the Intelligence Committee expected to finish its work in the coming months, senators are digging in for a new chapter that focuses on some of the largest scandals of the 2016 election. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway was invited by Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Utah) to a Senate GOP caucus lunch this week, where they discussed the Russia investigation, a spokesman for the GOP senator confirmed.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyRecessions happen when presidents overlook key problems Government regulation of social media would kill the internet — and free speech Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Graham’s committee, is calling for public oversight hearings, including issuing subpoenas to force cooperation if necessary. Under Judiciary Committee rules, Graham would either need a deal with Feinstein to issue a subpoena or would need a majority of the GOP-controlled panel.

McConnell, asked about Graham’s plans, said the South Carolina Republican had "raised a legitimate question" about potential misbehavior within the Obama administration during the 2016 campaign.

"I think it's not inappropriate for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over the Justice Department to investigate possible misbehavior," McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference. "The House is not going to miss an opportunity in ... the coming months to look at what they perceive to be things that require oversight. The Senate is involved in the oversight business just like the House is."

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Congress must address gender gap in nominations to military service academies GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei MORE (R-Ark.), who has stuck by Trump, told radio host Hugh Hewitt that there needs to be more scrutiny of how "so many Obama officials and senior officials in the FBI came to believe that an American presidential campaign was colluding with a foreign intelligence service."

Cotton was asked if his "premise" was that Obama administration officials tried to "sabotage" the transition.

"I don’t think based on what we’ve seen over the last three years you can have any other working premise," Cotton said.