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House Intel panel sets date for first Russia hearing

House Intel panel sets date for first Russia hearing
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The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing in its contentious investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on March 20, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced Tuesday.

The hearing is scheduled for the same day that Senate is set to begin its own high-stakes hearing to weigh the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant slot on the Supreme Court.

A preliminary witness list, which Nunes cautioned may be modified or expanded as necessary, includes a who’s-who of current and former senior intelligence officials linked to the probe.

Invited to testify are: FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that first put the finger on the Russians for the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

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Conspicuously absent from the list: Former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who resigned just weeks into his tenure following revelations that he misled the White House about the content of phone calls to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyac.

"At this point, we've invited the people who we feel are directly aligned with having information about this investigation on all sides of it," Nunes said. "General Flynn is a tangent to some of this because of his name being involves in a lot of leaks."

Flynn is "invited to attend," Nunes said, despite not being on "our official invite list."

The committee, along with its counterpart in the Senate, is investigating Russian efforts to influence U.S. presidential election.

Committee leadership last week settled on a scope for the probe, which will cover both alleged connections between Trump campaign officials and Moscow as well as reported leaks from members of the intelligence community.

But it came after weeks of fierce wrangling over what should fall under the purview of the investigation — and how strong the evidence is indicating contact between the campaign and Russian officials.

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE over the weekend issued a tweetstorm accusing former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's self-inflicted crisis Biden inaugural committee raised M with big sums from billionaires, corporations To confront corporate power, President Biden needs Jonathan Kanter MORE of wiretapping Trump Tower, something for which Nunes said Tuesday he had seen “no evidence.” 

He blamed the string of tweets on Trump’s relative political inexperience and a media too eager to take him literally.

“As you all know, the president is a neophyte in politics. And I think a lot of the things he says, you guys sometimes take literally,” Nunes said, referring to the press. ”Sometimes he doesn’t have 27 lawyers and staff looking at what he does.”

While arguing that the committee would follow the facts where they lead in the probe, Nunes appeared to downplay the possibility that the committee would uncover evidence that the Russians “helped elect Donald Trump.”

“I don’t believe that to be the case,” said Nunes, who was a member of Trump’s transition team executive committee.

“I don’t think the evidence exists for that — but we are going to do our investigation and we will figure out if there’s any intelligence that suggests that is the case.”

Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGroups see new openings for digging up dirt on Trump Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference MORE (D-Calif.) will hold his own availability later in the afternoon. He was unable to appear at Nunes's appearance due to a travel conflict, according to an aide. 

—Updated at 5:31 p.m.