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Schiff: Dems interested in Sessions's testimony about ouster in next Congress

Schiff: Dems interested in Sessions's testimony about ouster in next Congress
© Greg Nash

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffIncoming N.J. Dem lawmaker says she won't vote for Pelosi as Speaker Whitaker saying he won’t cut Mueller funding: report Incoming Intelligence chair wants to release interviews to aid Mueller probe MORE (Calif.), the Democrat likely to lead the House Intelligence Committee during the next Congress, is signaling an interest in interviewing former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report Acting AG will meet with DOJ ethics officials to discuss possible recusal: reports Swalwell calls acting AG an 'assassin' hired to 'take out' Mueller probe MORE about the circumstances of his firing.

"On this particular question of what led up to his firing or what information he may have in terms of obstruction to justice, I think that will be of interest to not only our committee but the Judiciary Committee and others as well," Schiff told The Hill in an interview on Thursday.

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Democrats are also increasingly interested in examining the circumstances surrounding President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE's appointment of Matthew Whitaker, who has voiced criticism of the federal Russia probe, as a temporary replacement for Sessions.

The Justice Department said on Wednesday that Whitaker would take over oversight of the Russia probe, which was previously overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinDem leaders request formal update from DOJ on whether Whitaker should recuse himself How Trump can pull off ultimate trick to make Mueller disappear Dems race to protect Mueller probe MORE. Rosenstein, the No. 2 DOJ official, watched over the probe after Sessions recused himself.

In particular, Democrats want to know whether or not Whitaker gave any pledges to the president prior to taking the helm of the DOJ. And Schiff said he also wants to know whether Whitaker told the president he would not step aside from overseeing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation, like Sessions did.

“I think we certainly need to know whether the acting attorney general, however long he is in that position, was forced to commit to refuse recusal. Whether he has sought the advice of the ethics lawyers at the Justice Department or if he refuses do so, or any others commitments he might have made to the president on the Russia investigation," Schiff said. 

Schiff, who currently serves as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, also expressed concerns about whether the shakeup this week could lead to a structure where the White House received information about the Mueller investigation.

"We also need to make sure that none of the information presented to the attorney general about the investigation was shared with the president," Schiff told The Hill.

Democrats from both chambers have voiced concerns about public comments Whitaker has made while a CNN contributor as well as in op-ed pieces published in The Hill, which scrutinized the Mueller investigation — comments he made before becoming Sessions's chief of staff at the Justice Department.

Already, top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have called on Whitaker to recuse himself for comments he’s made about Mueller.

Schiff echoed these comments Thursday, stating that he is "deeply concerned" by Whitaker's "prejudicial comments" and his ties to "important witnesses" in the investigation, such as former Trump campaign aide Sam Clovis.

Whitaker helped run Clovis's campaign for Iowa state treasurer in 2014. While Clovis has denied to The Washington Post that this should be a disqualifying factor, Schiff said these ties are "cause for recusal." 

The DOJ confirmed on Wednesday that Whitaker assumed control of the investigation following his appointment, which the president announced on Twitter not long after a contentious and sprawling press conference earlier that day.

Trump had long bashed Sessions over his recusal in the Russia probe. And after repeated public attacks, Sessions agreed to resign on Wednesday at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill.

The firing took place one day after the midterm elections in which Democrats won enough seats to take control of the House starting in January.

Democrats have vowed to protect Mueller's investigation, which is examining ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And when Mueller brings the investigation to a close, Schiff says the public deserves to know what the special counsel found throughout the course of his investigation.

"I think this is too big an investigation, too big of an important issue, to be swept under the rug. So I would certainly hope that a version of the Mueller report is made public," Schiff said.

"I don’t think the public would stand for the idea that this is too sensitive for them to know or  that it can just be presented internally to the Justice Department or even just to Congress… I think the public is going to need to get as full an accounting as possible," he continued.

When pressed whether he would support taking congressional action to push for the public release of the probe's findings, Schiff dodged: "I’m going to reserve judgment, but I can tell you we are not going to allow the president to sweep this under the rug," he said.