On the heels of FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reveal a new investigation of emails connected to Hillary Clinton’s server just over a week before the presidential election, top Democrats are demanding that he level the playing field and disclose what the FBI knows about Republican nominee Donald Trump’s possible ties to the Russian government.
“The FBI now potentially faces a very serious credibility problem,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Sunday evening. “If it turns out that the FBI is in fact investigating—or planning to investigate—[former Trump campaign manager] Paul Manafort because of his dealings with Russia, or anyone else associated with Donald Trump—and does not disclose these facts to the American people before the election—then the FBI will be accused of a double standard when those facts ultimately do come out.”
Comey went to extraordinary lengths to tell the public what the FBI has investigated with regards to Clinton’s email. But for months, suspicion has mounted among Democrats that the FBI is also probing Trump’s Russia ties without the same degree of public transparency.
Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign this summer after revelations of his business dealings with the government of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is alleged to have visited with two Russian government officials in a possible effort to open a diplomatic backchannel with the Kremlin, according to U.S. officials.
This month, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies issued a unanimous finding that senior Russian government officials ordered a campaign of computer hacks against Democratic political organizations in an effort to “interfere” with the upcoming presidential contest. Trump has praised Putin and called on the Russian government to mount further operations against Clinton in order to reveal her private emails. And Trump adviser Roger Stone has claimed to be in contact with WikiLeaks, which has posted emails that Russian hackers stole from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Cummings joined the Senate’s top Democrat, Harry Reid, who demanded that Comey release information he claims the FBI has on Trump’s connections to Russia.
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national-security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government—a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Reid wrote to the FBI director on Sunday evening.
“The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”
Reid has something of a habit of making bombshell assertions that don’t pan out—his 2012 accusation that Mitt Romney paid no taxes come to mind. But in this case, Reid may not be pulling this “explosive information” allegation out of thin air.
Reid had previously written to Comey to investigate, among other things, the meetings between Russian officials and Page. Reid’s letter followed an intelligence briefing he received about the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and Russian efforts to interfere with the election, two individuals with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast. (Page denies the meetings ever happened.)
Other Democrats have implored the FBI to look deeper into Trump’s dealings with Russia. But so far, GOP leaders have refused to support efforts by Democrats to investigate any possible Trump-Russia connections, which have been raised in news reports and closed-door intelligence briefings. And without their support, Democrats, as the minority in both chambers of Congress, cannot issue subpoenas to potential witnesses and have less leverage to probe Trump.
Privately, Republican congressional staffers have told The Daily Beast that Trump and his aides’ connections to Russian officials and businesses interests haven’t gone unnoticed and are concerning. And GOP lawmakers have reviewed Democrats’ written requests to the FBI that it investigate Trump before they were made public.
But lawmakers in both chambers have declined to sign on to them. Republicans have no appetite to launch inquiries into their party’s presidential nominee, and they continue to believe the FBI flubbed its investigation into Clinton and her aides, who should have been charged with mishandling government secrets, the staffers said.
Democrats and the Clinton campaign have blasted Comey for releasing what they say was a vaguely worded and incomplete statement Friday about the FBI’s discovery of emails that he said appear “pertinent” to the investigation of Clinton’s email server. In July, Comey issued an extraordinary public statement in which he explained his decision not to recommend pressing charges against Clinton or her aides for what he called their “extremely careless” use of private email to conduct official business.
Comey faced criticism at the time for revealing the inner workings of the investigation and appearing to editorialize on Clinton’s email use.
“Director Comey’s announcement played right into the political campaign of Donald Trump, who is already using the letter for political purposes,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Friday.
Feinstein and three other top Democratic senators wrote Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking for a briefing by Monday with more details about the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s email.
“The American people deserve more disclosure without delay regarding the FBI’s most recent announcement,” the senators wrote. “Anything less would be irresponsible and a disservice to the American people.”