House GOP rebuffs attempt by Dems to subpoena Coats for public testimony

House GOP rebuffs attempt by Dems to subpoena Coats for public testimony
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday failed in their attempt to subpoena the top U.S. intelligence official to testify publicly on the threat Russia poses to U.S. elections.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Swing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike MORE (D-Va.) offered a motion to subpoena Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE. Republicans defeated the effort in a 17-15 party-line vote that tabled the motion.

The vote was held during a hearing on election security after Democrats criticized Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOur sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.) for declining their request to ask Coats to testify.

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Gowdy had offered to invite Coats to testify before the committee in a classified setting, but Democrats described that offer as insufficient.

“We appreciate your agreement to hold a classified briefing with [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence], but we think a briefing, albeit helpful, needs to be accompanied by a public hearing,” said Connolly, adding that a closed-door briefing would be “no substitute” for a public one.

Ranking member Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks MORE (D-Md.) backed up Connolly’s effort.

“We must make sure that the public hears directly from Director Coats about the attack,” Cummings said.

Coats has been in the spotlight ever since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election following a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Coats issued a statement backing up the “fact-based” findings of the intelligence community shortly after Trump’s July 16 remarks.

Trump’s comments at the joint press conference with Putin prompted bipartisan backlash. While the president has since clarified his statement — saying he misspoke — the developments have nevertheless been a flashpoint for criticism of Trump in recent days.

Coats later said he was just doing his job and that he needed “to correct the record.” He said he was encouraged by the president’s subsequent clarification.

“Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement, but I think now that has been clarified based on his late reactions to this,” Coats said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday featured witnesses from the federal government — including a top official at the Department of Homeland Security who is spearheading federal efforts to help states secure their voting systems — as well as state and local officials.

At the end of the hearing, Gowdy, who is also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, pushed back on Democrats’ broader demands for more public hearings to examine Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He argued that the House and Senate intelligence committees appropriately conducted their investigations into Moscow’s election meddling in a classified setting in order to review sensitive information.

“I get that some of my colleagues want every single committee of Congress to look into the fact pattern,” Gowdy said, adding that he interviewed more than 70 witnesses last year in what's known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. “But the reality is, given the sensitive nature of this information, that investigation is best handled in a confidential setting, which is where the House Intelligence Committee meets."

“Everything can’t be done in public,” he said.

The House Intelligence Committee wrapped up its investigation on Russian interference at the end of April. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Tillis dodges primary challenge in NC MORE (R-N.C.) has said he expects the panel complete its own probe in August.

This post was updated at 1:30 p.m.