The House Intelligence Committee is potentially expanding the scope of its probe into Russian activities in the U.S. elections to include allegations that ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn spoke about sanctions with a Russian official late last year.
The statement from a spokesman for Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) suggests that the House is now open to investigating the full scope of the allegations swirling around the Trump team and Russia rather than focused squarely on how such charges ended up in the news media in recent weeks.
“The committee is not preemptively excluding any topics or individuals from our inquiry, and we expect that the investigation will lead us to interview current and former U.S. officials,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement late Thursday.
The statement echoes comments earlier in the day from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).
Leaders on the committee, Schiff said, agreed only in the last 24 hours “to investigate any relevant allegations, including those involving Michael Flynn.”
“I think we are on the same page with what the Senate is interested in,” he said.
House Democrats are concerned that their Republican colleagues are not following the bipartisan — at least for now — model being set by their Senate counterparts in vowing to fully and aggressively investigate both the idea that Russia sought to interfere in the election, and more recent reports that Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States in December, before Trump was inaugurated. Another news report said that Trump campaign officials were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
Both the House and Senate intelligence panels launched probes into Russian activities in the election at the end of January.
This week, as more information emerged, House leaders appeared more concerned about getting to the bottom of who is leaking key information to the news media. President Trump also complained about the leaks at a Thursday news conference.
“There should be an investigation as to the leaks of information leaving — wherever they’re coming from,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday. “If it’s classified information, that is criminal and there should be a criminal investigation of these leaks.”
That approach had some House Democrats worried.
“It makes us look bad,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
Even if House Republicans have shifted the scope of their probe, their rhetoric remains directed at those responsible for the leaks.
As Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and a Trump supporter, put it, the leaks are a “bigger story than the incident with what General Flynn did.”
On Wednesday night, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) sent a joint letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general, urging him to dig into whether leaked, classified information had been “mishandled.” That letter was released at nearly the same time as one from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), to FBI Director James B. Comey demanding copies of transcripts of Flynn’s intercepted calls with the Russian ambassador, as well as a committee briefing later this month on the events that led to Flynn’s resignation.
On Thursday, Feinstein credited Grassley with coming up with the idea, telling reporters: “We work very well together.”
Feinstein, who is also on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, offered even more vocal praise for Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), applauding him for moving the investigation along “very aggressively” and professing to have “faith” in his efforts.
Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee have taken note of the relative harmony between the Senate leaders and the very different situation in which they find themselves.
At this point, House Democrats are severely limited in what they are able to do to hustle the investigations along.
Lead Democrats on committees with jurisdiction over the investigations have almost no power to issue subpoenas to force members of the Trump administration to testify and few procedural options to get their demands acknowledged.
What they do have in their arsenal, they have already deployed. Last week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed a “resolution of inquiry” asking the Justice Department for copies of all documents and records pertaining to a “criminal or counterintelligence investigation” into Trump. Under House rules, the Judiciary Committee is obligated to at least debate the resolution within 14 legislative days.
“That was done because we were getting no response from the Republicans,” Nadler said Thursday. “That’s one way of making them at least respond.”
Democrats have also been sending a flurry of letters to their GOP colleagues and various administration officials.
Nadler said Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee responded to Chaffetz and Goodlatte’s letter with one of their own to the Justice Department’s inspector general, “saying ‘while you’re looking at the leaks, take a look at everything else.’ ”
On Thursday, Schiff and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also sent a letter to the acting director of national intelligence, Michael Dempsey, demanding a “comprehensive intelligence briefing” on Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials, as well as access to the transcripts of those conversations.
“It’s a bipartisan request in the Senate, but we could not get agreement on that,” Schiff said.
On Thursday, Chaffetz joined Cummings in sending a letter to the speakers bureau Leading Authorities Inc. asking for documents to determine how much Flynn had been paid to attend a 2015 gala hosted by Kremlin-backed RT television network.
“Chaffetz did join us in a letter on that,” Cummings noted Thursday. “On the more complex things, we’re not getting his cooperation so far. But he may change.”
Cummings also noted that Democrats had gotten their first Republican — Rep. Walter B. Jones (N.C.) — to sign onto a bill to establish an independent commission to investigate Russia-
related allegations. “Hopefully this will break open something,” he said. “We don’t know.”