GOP votes to give Graham broad subpoena power in Obama-era probe

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to authorize subpoenas for more than 50 individuals as Republicans ramp up their investigation into the 2016 Russia probe.

In a 12-10 party-line vote, Republicans on the panel gave Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham says FBI chief 'committed to being helpful' after Trump criticism Democrat flips GOP-held state House seat in South Carolina Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.) broad authority to subpoena the individuals, who include high-profile Obama administration officials, for interviews or documents tied to his investigation.

Graham, who has aligned himself closely with Trump in a year both are seeking reelection, has defended the probe, despite deep frustrations among members of the committee. 

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"I find myself in a position where I think we need to look long and hard about how the Mueller investigation got off the rails," he said on Thursday. “This committee is not going to sit on the sidelines and move on.” 

Graham is doing a broad investigation that includes probing "Crossfire Hurricane," the name of the FBI's investigation into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign. 

Thursday's vote gives Graham the power to subpoena officials including former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump hits FBI Director Wray: 'I wish he was more forthcoming' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes MORE, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Trump slams former intelligence officials to explain 'reluctance to embrace' agencies Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers MORE.

He was also granted subpoena power to compel documents and records referenced in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's review of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications related to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as testimony from anyone named in the report.

The vote also gives Graham authority to subpoena documents or testimony from "any current or former executive branch official or employee involved in, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation ... or the receipt or analysis of reports prepared by Christopher Steele," who compiled an infamous opposition research dossier against then-candidate Trump.

Democrats tried several times to amend the subpoena to include Trump allies and former aides, including former Trump lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenMichael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Ocasio-Cortez challenges Trump to release college transcript The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package MORE, former Trump campaign adviser Richard Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey Kushner5 takeaways from Israel and UAE opening diplomatic ties Kushner says he met with Kanye West for 'general discussion' about policy The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Harris make first public appearance as running mates MORE and former Trump campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrump says he would consider pardons for those implicated in Mueller investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - Mask mandates, restrictions issued as COVID-19 spreads MORE. Republicans rejected the amendments in a party-line vote. 

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More than an hour into the meeting, Durbin said he still had five amendments related to subpoenaing individuals that the GOP majority “doesn’t want to hear from.” When Graham asked if he wanted to merge the subpoenas into one vote, Durbin replied, “no, I don’t.” 

Democrats have also indicated that they want to hear from former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE. Graham said on Thursday that he was open to hearing from Mueller or a Mueller-team designee, though members did not vote to do so during the committee meeting. 

Under committee rules, Graham can issue a subpoena either as part of a deal with ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (D-Calif.) or with a majority vote of the committee. Because Republicans hold a 12-10 majority on the panel they were able to grant Graham the subpoena power as long as every GOP senator voted for it.

But Feinstein argued that it would break the spirit of committee rules because Graham would not have to come back to the panel for specific subpoenas and was, instead, trying to “grant himself unilateral subpoena authority.” 

“The resolution would give the chair sole authority to issue literally hundreds of subpoenas without any agreement from the ranking member of any committee vote on any specific subpoena,” she added. 

Feinstein also tried to add an amendment that would also allow Democrats to be able to issue subpoenas, but Republicans rejected that along party lines. 

Graham's investigation comes as Senate Republicans are increasingly embracing Trump's call to investigate decisions stemming from the Obama administration and the Russia probe, which the president, his allies and some members of Graham's committee have called a "witch hunt."

Graham has denied that his probe is motivated by politics or pressure from Trump, who has publicly urged him to lean into the investigation. But he wants to release a report on his findings by October, keeping the issue in the spotlight in the final weeks leading up to the election.

The plan has sparked fierce tensions with Democrats both on and off the Judiciary Committee, which has been at the center of high-profile fights in recent years.

The committee had initially been expected to approve the subpoena last week, but Graham announced mid-meeting that they would delay the vote because of a time crunch as they brushed up against a previously scheduled Senate vote. 

"We're going to do what this committee needs to do, and we're going to fight it out and we're going to vote. ... I think the best thing for us to do is [to] carry this over to next week so we can have a full discussion," Graham said last week.

His decision came as frustrations were running high amid the business meeting.

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"This is about a president who just can't get over it, maybe he will never will, and by a chairman who wants him to have another day to make his point about how he was mistreated," Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders MORE (D-Ill.) told Graham during the meeting.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseChina's Confucius Institute designated as a foreign mission of Beijing Big Ten conference officially cancels fall football season due to coronavirus Ex-NFL receiver Rep. Anthony Gonzalez: Big Ten skipping football season could be 'catastrophic' for athletes MORE (R-Neb.) accused his colleagues of grandstanding because the hearing was being carried live by TV cameras, saying that it's "bullshit the way people grandstand for cameras in here" and that "90 percent of our committees are about people trolling for soundbites."

Democrats view Graham's investigation as an attempt to launch a fishing expedition against Trump's political enemies heading into the election, and one that could inadvertently spread Russian misinformation.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Senate Republicans now plan to spend the next several months bolstering the president’s attack on the Russia investigation and his Democratic nominee, Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE. Congress should not conduct politically motivated investigations designed to attack or help any presidential candidate," Feinstein said.