Trump campaign contacts with Moscow to be focus for Democrats

Trump campaign contacts with Moscow to be focus for Democrats
© Greg Nash

Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Schiff: Diplomacy with Iran 'only way out of this situation' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (Calif.) and other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday are set to dig into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia detailed in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal MORE’s report.
 
The public hearing is a somewhat rare event for the committee, which typically deals in sensitive information, and will feature former FBI officials.
 

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Schiff said Tuesday he is interested in receiving expert testimony on whether the contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow could pose a national security threat even though they were not deemed criminal by Mueller.
 
“If the president was trying to make money in Russia during the campaign and concealing it, that’s a counterintelligence nightmare. If the campaign chairman was trying to make money from Russians and concealing it, that’s a counterintelligence nightmare. If others in the administration have financial entanglements driving U.S. policy, those are counterintelligence problems of the first order,” Schiff told The Hill.
 
“None of that is really discussed in that fashion in the report, which is basically a report about prosecutorial decisionmaking. So, we want to flesh out the counterintelligence issues,” Schiff said.
 
Democrats are likely to use the hearing to illuminate the more than 100 contacts between members and associates of the Trump campaign and Kremlin-linked figures that are detailed in the first volume of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
 
Republicans have invited their own witness, a former federal prosecutor and Fox News contributor. 
 
They are likely to train their questions on the original counterintelligence investigation, which they allege was improperly started by agents biased against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE during the election. A number of Republicans have also argued the FBI improperly relied on information from the infamous Steele dossier in applying for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
 
Notably absent from the committee’s hearing will be Mueller, who has resisted testifying despite negotiations with House Democrats for his public testimony. 
 
Mueller, who wrapped up his investigation in late March, charged various Trump associates with false statements and other crimes but found insufficient evidence to charge members of the Trump campaign in a broader conspiracy with Russia to interfere in the election.
 
Democrats say that Mueller’s report, in addition to his brief public remarks in late May, leave many questions unanswered. Schiff has repeatedly sought to determine what became of the FBI counterintelligence investigation that preceded Mueller’s probe, but said he’s been unable to get satisfactory answers from the intelligence community.
 
Schiff has called two former top FBI national security officials as witnesses, both of whom worked under Mueller when he served as the bureau’s director and now hold jobs in the private sector.
 
One of the witnesses, Stephanie Douglas, was appointed by Mueller to serve as executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch in 2012. Robert Anderson, the second witness, was appointed by Mueller to be assistant director of the counterintelligence division in 2012 and was later named by then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Aggrieved Trump rips Dems for 'sad' impeachment effort MORE to serve as executive assistant director of the FBI’s cyber and criminal investigations branch.
 
Democrats insist the hearing will not simply rehash what is already on the public record.
 
Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress MORE (D-Conn.) expressed interest in fleshing out details about contacts between former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDemocrats return to a battered Trump Manafort's legal team argues NY prosecution constitutes double jeopardy Clip surfaces of Paul Manafort and wife on Nickelodeon game show MORE and Konstantin KilimnikKonstantin KilimnikRobert Mueller soon may be exposed as the 'magician of omission' on Russia Trump campaign contacts with Moscow to be focus for Democrats Key figure that Mueller report linked to Russia was a State Department intel source MORE, Manafort’s former business partner who the FBI believes has ties to Russian intelligence.  
 
“The point is not going to be to rehash what is out there for everybody to see, but to try to get some detail on some of the things that were intriguing,” he said.
 
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The GOP witness is Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who is now a contributing editor at National Review and a Fox News contributor. 
 
McCarthy regularly provides commentary about Mueller’s investigation and the Justice Department’s new inquiry into 2016 intelligence collection on the Trump campaign.
 
McCarthy has been critical of Mueller, labeling the special counsel's failure to make a decision on obstruction of justice a “dereliction of duty,” and has also criticized the conduct of FBI agents in the Trump campaign and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump's economic approval takes hit in battleground states: poll This is how Democrats will ensure Trump's re-election The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE email investigations.
 
Wednesday’s hearing comes two days after the House Judiciary Committee called former Nixon White House counsel John Dean to testify on Mueller’s report as it relates to potential obstruction of justice by Trump.
 
The public hearings mark a concerted effort by Democrats to move forward with their parallel probes into Russian interference, without having secured testimony from Mueller and despite efforts by the White House to thwart the probes.
 
Trump has lambasted Schiff and other Democrats for launching a wide swath of investigations into him and his administration, accusing them of trying to damage him politically ahead of a reelection year.
 
“All they do is waste time on the investigations where there is no obstruction, no collusion, nothing,” Trump told reporters Tuesday afternoon before departing the White House for a trip to Iowa.
 
In his public remarks on May 29, Mueller outlined the findings of his investigation but signaled he does not want to testify publicly before Congress and would not speak beyond the four corners of the report.
 
Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe MORE (D-N.Y.) have been negotiating separately for Mueller to come before their committees, but no deals have been announced — raising the possibility Democrats could subpoena the special counsel for his appearance. Schiff and other committee Democrats said Tuesday they were hopeful Mueller would come in.
 
At least part of Mueller’s testimony before the House Intelligence panel would take place behind closed doors, given the classified nature of the details lawmakers are likely to want to delve into.
 
“We really need to have him come in and testify, and I still hope that he will do so voluntarily,” Schiff said. “So, we’re trying to see if that’s possible, but he really does need to come and talk about his report, answer questions about his report. After two years, 10 minutes is really not sufficient.”