House Intel Democrats Just Restarted and Supercharged the Trump-Russia Probe
Armed with subpoena power, Schiff will look at whether anyone connected to Trump was at risk of being co-opted by a foreign power—and that’s going to have an expansive scope.
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia is officially back. And under the panel’s new Democratic management, it’s beyond supersized.
In its first official business meeting of the new Congress on Wednesday—facilitated by the House Republican leadership’s somewhat belated announcement of GOP membership on the committee—the much-watched House panel voted to re-establish an inquiry into what now might be called Collusion-Plus.
It’s about as different as possible from the committee’s previous investigative incarnation under Republican management, which last year released a report absolving the president and his campaign of any culpability in Russian manipulation of the 2016 election and turned its ire on those within the Justice Department and FBI investigating Trump.
Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) has made no secret of his emphasis on going after financial ties between Trump and Russia and subpoenaing documents thus far untouched by the panel. And on Wednesday, the committee voted to execute another long-standing priority of Schiff’s: giving Special Counsel Robert Mueller the transcripts of all witnesses before the House probe. Misleading the committee and its Senate counterpart has already led to indictments of former Trump advisers Michael Cohen and Roger Stone—and they may not have been the only ones to give false or incomplete testimony.
But an announcement from Schiff shortly after the Wednesday morning vote underscored the ginormous reach of the 2.0 version of the investigation.
The investigation will examine the “scope” of the Kremlin’s influence campaigns on American politics, both in 2016 and afterwards, and “any links/and or coordination” between anyone in the Trump orbit—the campaign, transition, administration, or, critically, the president’s businesses—and “furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.” It will also look at whether “any foreign actor,” not only Russians, has any “leverage, financial or otherwise” over Trump, “his family, his business, or his associates”—and whether such actors actively “sought to compromise” any of those many, many people.
A related line of inquiry will examine whether Trump, his family, and his advisers “are or were at any time at heightened risk of” being suborned by foreign interests in any way. That includes a vulnerability to foreign “exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion.” All that makes it very likely that the committee examines Trump administration policy—think the Syria pullout, or ex-national security adviser and admitted felon Mike Flynn’s attempts to work with Russia’s military in Syria, or Trump’s infamous Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin—through that lens.
And then comes a highly touchy subject.
Schiff said that the committee will also probe whether anyone, “foreign or domestic,” currently or formerly sought to “impede, obstruct and/or mislead” the intelligence committee’s investigation or any others, meaning Mueller’s or the Senate intelligence committee’s own inquiries. And that raises the prospect of examining whether the aforementioned witnesses before the panel obstructed it. Fellow Democrats on the committee have told The Daily Beast their desire to get several witnesses back before the panel whose testimony they consider questionable. Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley said last month there were “nine or ten” such witnesses on his radar, including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
And with questions swirling about how heavily Trump attorney general nominee Bill Barr will withhold Mueller’s final investigative report, Schiff indicated that the committee will form a sort of backstop for the public. He also indicated he’ll work with other House committees, likely the oversight and judiciary panels, “on matters of overlapping interest,” Schiff said.
“The Committee must fulfill its responsibility to provide the American people with a comprehensive accounting of what happened, and what the United States must do to protect itself from future interference and malign influence operations,” Schiff said in Wednesday’s announcement.
And in addition to what the committee voted to give Mueller, Schiff committed to publicly releasing “all investigation transcripts” before the committee—though he didn’t commit to any timetable, in the interests of “continued pursuit of important leads and testimony.” That corresponds with another move Schiff and the committee made on Wednesday: to delay Friday’s scheduled closed-door testimony of Cohen until Feb. 28, something neither the committee nor the Cohen camp has yet explained beyond vague allusions to investigative interests.
Trump on Wednesday denounced Schiff as a “political hack,” claiming that he has “no basis” to launch his investigations. “It’s just presidential harassment, and it’s unfortunate, and it really does hurt our country,” he insisted.
Ahead of Schiff’s announcement, the committee’s Republicans issued a release welcoming release of all the witness transcripts and called on the Democrats to “immediately” publish all the unclassified ones. And in a reversal of positions following the November election, they wanted Democrats to accede to Republican requests to “subpoena numerous witnesses whose testimony the Democrats had previously sought.” That might be one of the last bipartisan moves on a committee that hasn’t made many since the first version of the Trump-Russia investigation began.
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to correct an initial misreading of the committee announcement that seemed to indicate the new probe might examine House Republicans.