The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is getting extra money and new staff for the panel’s investigation into Russian election meddling, The Daily Beast has learned.
Shannon Green is being brought on as senior counsel for investigations, and Maher Bitar is joining the committee as general counsel. A committee source told The Daily Beast that Green and Bitar will be focused on the panel’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as the possibility that Trump associates colluded with Russian operatives.
The integrity and seriousness of the congressional Russia probes has been under a microscope in recent months. The House panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, was forced to recuse himself from leading the lower chamber’s investigation over allegations that he was openly colluding himself with the White House over the release of sensitive information. The episode sparked an ethics investigation into Nunes’ behavior, and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) now chairs the committee’s Russia inquiry.
A lack of resources has been a major issue for both congressional investigations. At one point, the Senate’s probe did not have full-time staffers with investigative experience devoted to the Russia inquiry, and was slow to begin interviewing persons of interest. On the House side, California Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, confirmed in February that he was requesting more funding.
“We have to multitask because our day job hasn’t gone away,” Schiff told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “The other very important limitation is that the intelligence community is only granting so many clearances for staff to review the most sensitive material… [so this] doesn’t mean you’re getting that many additional eyes on the task.”
The committee previously received $9.2 million over a two-year period in 2015 and 2016, compared to the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Relations Committee, which received $14.2 million and $14.9 million each during that same time. HPSCI had the lowest funding levels of any national-security-related committee.
Schiff said the new round of funding meets the standard he was trying to reach in February. “We did get the funding we had requested,” Schiff added. “That’s what allowed us to bring on these new hires.”
As the relationship between Nunes and Schiff soured, attention shifted to the investigation being conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, and Vice Chairman, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, have a close working relationship, Burr committed to the investigation despite his open support of President Donald Trump during the campaign—saying at one point that there was “no separation” between him and Trump. Trump has labeled the probes as “fake news,” a “witch hunt,” a “total hoax,” and a Democratic “excuse” for losing the 2016 presidential election, among other smears.
“I think it’s really important that they’re hiring new people,” Mieke Eoyang, who heads the national-security program at centrist think tank Third Way and previously served as a subcommittee staff director for HPSCI, told The Daily Beast. “In particular, they’re hiring lawyers and that’s really important. An investigation of this size needs the capacity to be able to handle it.”
Green is a former counsel on the House’s Benghazi select committee, and served as a State Department adviser. Bitar is a former deputy to ex-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. He also served on the NSC. Schiff said both Green and Bitar bring national-security, legal and investigative experience to the table.