House Intel Republicans appear close to ending Russia probe
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee appear close to closing the committee’s yearlong investigation into Russian interference.
Republicans say the panel has thoroughly examined Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election and they are ready to conclude the probe. But alarmed Democratic colleagues say ending the investigation anytime soon would be premature.
“I think we are pretty much near the end of it,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill on Monday.
“I don’t know exactly when it is going to end, but we’ve definitely interviewed just about every possible witness, every plausible witness,” he added.
Democrats, on the other hand, are renewing their warning calls about a concerted effort by the GOP to cut the investigation’s lifespan short in an effort to shield President Trump from the congressional probes, which are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“We’re being shut off,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said during a Monday appearance on “CNN Newsroom.”
“If I had to predict, in the next month they will shut down the House and Senate investigations and I would imagine they would cheer on the White House attempt to shut down Mueller,” he added.
Quigley also accused the Republican majority on the committee of being complicit in following the marching orders of the Trump administration by failing to compel witnesses to answer questions in the face of a “gag order” from the White House.
Democrats loudly protested last week that Republicans are failing to follow up on threats to hold former White House strategist Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress. Republicans on the committee appeared relatively quiet on the matter, a contrast to their initial fury at Bannon, who refused to answer some committee questions while under subpoena during an interview in February.
The clashing viewpoints on the probe are the latest sign of deteriorating bipartisan relations between the committee’s Democrats and Republicans, who have engaged in a bruising battle over the direction of the investigation.
Tensions reached a boiling point last month when Democrats called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to remove Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) over his controversial decision to release a classified memo authored by his staff that outlined allegations of surveillance abuse.
While they eventually released their own point-by-point rebuttal last week, after Republicans initially voted to not release the Democratic memo, Democrats accused Nunes of using his memo to undermine Mueller by suggesting that federal probe was tainted from the start as it was based off information that was funded by Trump’s opponents.
Republicans have also been accused of leaking to the press.
The New York Times reported last week that the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee suspect Nunes is behind the leaked text messages to Fox News that aimed to discredit the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Warner communicated with lobbyist Adam Waldman, whose firm has reported ties to a Russian oligarch, in an attempt to make contact with Christopher Steele, the author of the controversial Trump dossier.
The leaders of the Senate committee, which has led is own independent investigation into Russian interference, are largely seen as the perfect opposite of the House panel: well-functioning, tight-lipped and bipartisan.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and other Republicans came to the defense of Warner at the time, who said he had informed them of the text messages. But Burr disputed the idea that he complained to Ryan that Nunes was behind the leak.
Partisan infighting has splintered committee relations to such a degree that the purpose of the Russia investigation is being undermined, a senior Republican leading the Russia probe said Friday.
“I went on television and called for an end to House Russia investigation, not because I don’t think that there is still more information that we can gather from witnesses, but because the investigation has just completely gone off the rails politically,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said during an interview with The New York Times’s “The Daily” podcast.
Rooney, who announced he will not seek reelection last month, has repeatedly described the partisan atmosphere as toxic.
“The well has been poisoned so bad down there that it will be very, very difficult to get out of that,” he said in the interview.
The Florida lawmaker made the case that it is pointless to continue the probe if the committee cannot put aside their differences and write a bipartisan report detailing their investigation’s findings on Moscow’s meddling, but he said it has already become clear that is not going to happen.
“We’ve already been told there’s not going to be a bipartisan report — there’s going to be a majority report and a minority report. But it is not going to be bipartisan. And if it is not going to be bipartisan, it might as well just end,” Rooney said in the podcast interview.
Republicans are still fuming over what they viewed as Democrats’ unfair treatment of White House communications director Hope Hicks during her appearance before the committee last week, which they point to as an example of how partisanship has impeded their investigative efforts.
Democrats, King said, asked a “cheap question” about whether the White House communications director had ever lied for her boss. King alleged that Democrats then quickly turned around and leaked to the press Hicks’s admission that she had told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf.
“To me that is sort of what we are up against,” King said.
Despite the talk of ending the probe, the committee could continue to interview other witnesses.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is expected to appear before the committee for a second interview on Thursday, a committee source familiar with the matter confirmed.
Bloomberg News first reported his expected appearance.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the committee, publicly sounded the alarm in December that Republicans planned to wrap up the high-profile probe before the start of the new year. The committee, however, continued to interview witnesses months after Schiff made such claims.
When the investigation does ultimately wrap up, it will likely end with pointed fingers.
A spokesperson for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the top Republican leading the investigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the timeline.