Your Guide To All The Committees Probing Trump, Comey And Russia

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose panel is responsible for vetting judicial appointments, arrives for a hearing shortly after President Barack Obama announced Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., repeated his steadfast opposition to holding confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee in President Obama’s last months in the White House and made it clear in a speech on the floor that the GOP-led Senate will not consider President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, but will wait until after the next president is in place.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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This story has been updated.

In the span of just a few days, an already complex and sprawling effort to investigate President Donald Trump’s connections to Russia became vastly more complicated.

With new reports of a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey detailing a request from President Trump to back off the bureau’s Russia investigation, two additional congressional committees have amped up their efforts, joining the super secretive House and Senate intelligence committees, which have already been on the case for several months.

Both the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee have demanded to see the Comey memo, if it exists, and other documents related to the ousted FBI director’s interactions with the President. Members of both committees say that they’re actively seeking a public hearing with Comey.

As the two additional committees jump deeper into the fray, both Intelligence committees’ investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election—especially the House’s effort—have been mired in controversy, derailed by accusations of partisanship, and delayed by a lack of resources. And that was before Trump fired the man leading the FBI’s own investigation into the same matter.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), told reporters this week that nothing on the Hill can replace a robust FBI effort to get the story straight.

“The FBI has far greater reach than any committee in Congress,” he said. “They have agents around the world who have resources we don’t have. So we can’t recreate their work, nor should we try. We have to pursue our own investigations.”

Here’s your guide to the four congressional committees now investigating matters related to Trump, Comey and Russia’s influence in the 2016 election:

House Intelligence Committee

Back in simpler, gentler times – early March – the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee agreed that their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election would seek to answer the following questions:

-What Russian cyber activity and other active measures were directed against the United States and its allies?

-Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. Persons?

-What was the U.S. Government’s response to these Russian active measures and what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future?

-What possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community Assessment of these matters?

But that bipartisan cooperation quickly went south. Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) derailed the committee’s work with a bizarre series of secret White House visits, canceled hearings, impromptu press conferences multiple times in a single day in which he may have divulged classified information, and baseless accusations that the Obama administration ordered surveillance of Trump campaign members.

In early April, Nunes—besieged by accusations of impropriety—announced he was stepping aside from the probe. The Office of Congressional Ethics is currently looking into his behavior. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) took over chairing the investigation.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told reporters Tuesday that the committee’s work is now back on track, but they now have more on their plate than when they began—thanks to reports that Trump pressured Comey to drop his investigation of Mike Flynn and that the president shared highly classified Israel-sourced intelligence with Russian government officials.

“There is still more for us to learn in terms of whether classified information was shared with the Russians, and whether any mitigation steps needs to be put in place,” he said.

This week, the committee received a briefing from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and will push going forward for the opportunity to question Comey and review his reported trove of memos on his conversations with Trump.

Senate Intelligence Committee

As the House Intelligence Committee descended into chaos and partisan bickering, the Senate Intelligence Committee positioned itself as the adults in the room.

Beginning in January, they set out to investigate “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns,” and vowed to “interview senior officials of both the outgoing and incoming administrations including the issuance of subpoenas if necessary to compel testimony.”

In late March, the top Republican and Democrat on the committee held a joint press conference to re-emphasize the breadth and seriousness of their investigation. Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) explained that they are investigating the core question of whether Trump or any of his associates played any role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but are also looking at Russian meddling in other countries’ elections as well as financial ties between Trump’s businesses and Russia.

But the committee’s progress has been rocky.

Just a handful of staffers have been tasked with reviewing thousands of pages of intelligence. They are not working on the probe full-time, they do not have any prosecutorial or investigative experience, and none are experts on Russia. Democrats have complained about the slow pace of the committee’s work.

After Comey’s ouster, the chair and vice chair huddled behind closed doors with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote the memo that the Trump administration used as the basis for firing the FBI director. In that meeting, they said, they laid out how they would coordinate information sharing and witness testimony going forward.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe answered committee members’ questions about Comey’s firing at an unrelated Intel hearing where Comey, before his termination, had been slated to appear.

But when the New York Times broke the news this week that Trump had leaned on Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, and that Comey had meticulously documented this conversation in a memo, Burr claimed it was the Times’ responsibility to produce the memo, even though Congress has subpoena power.   

On Wednesday, the committee sent Comey a letter asking him to testify in both open and closed sessions, and wrote to the FBI requesting  “any notes or memorandum” Comey may have written “regarding any communications he may have had with senior White House and Department of Justice officials related to investigations into Russia’s efforts.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) was the first Republican to take an official step to expand the investigation into the Trump administration’s handling of the Comey firing beyond the Intel Committee’s Russia probe. Last week, he requested that the Justice Department inspector general, who was already examining Comey’s conduct of the Hillary Clinton email investigation leading up to the 2016 election, expand that inquiry into Trump’s decision to fire Comey. Hours after the New York Times report on the Comey memo was published Tuesday, he announced on Twitter he was seeking to get his hands on it. He has since said he is working on having Comey testify in front of the committee next week. The letter he sent to the FBI requesting all documents relating to interactions between Comey and Trump sets a deadline for next Wednesday.

Chaffetz’s aggressive response to the Comey allegations is somewhat surprising, given that before last week he had demonstrated a laissez faire approach to oversight of the Trump administration, in contrast to his borderline obsessive-style of investigating Clinton, Obama and other Democratic officials. He is also on the way out of the chairmanship, having announced last month that he was retiring from Congress before his term is up, though exactly when is still unclear.

And to wit: with the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as a special counsel in the Russia probe, Chaffetz went back to defending Trump and pushing back against efforts to deepen the investigation.

“I have not seen any evidence of actual collusion. Where is the actual crime that they think they need a special prosecutor to prosecute?” he said on Fox News Wednesday evening.

Not surprisingly, ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has been an extremely vocal voice in Democrats’ call for more oversight of the administration. He was the co-sponsor of a bill to create a separate bipartisan commission to probe Russia’s influence in the elections. He and the other Democrats also rang the alarm in a letter to Chaffetz last month that said the White House was stone-walling the committee’s previous request for documents related to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s vetting process.

The Oversight Committee has an extremely broad range of jurisdiction that gives it the authority to investigate “any” matter at “any” time that pertains to one of the House standing committees.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was one of a few lawmakers who were given a heads up about Trump’s decision last week to fire Comey, a decision he said he supported soon after the termination was announced. Grassley had raised questions about the FBI in the past, in particular demanding clarity on whether the FBI was investigating the Trump administration.

Now, he is requesting both the FBI and the White House turn over what evidence they have — including audio, as Trump has suggested he has “tapes” of Comey — of “controversial conversations” Comey had with both Trump and Obama administration officials. His query, which was signed by the ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and the bipartisan leaders of the subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, also includes documents relating to conversations between Obama-era officials over the Clinton email investigation

The deadline for these requests is also next Wednesday.

The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Justice Department, thus personnel decisions at the FBI falls under its purview. Previously, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) had requested the Justice Department provide evidence of campaign-related wiretapping, after Trump claimed in March he had been wiretapped by President Obama. The committee also hosted former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for testimony on how the White House handled the Flynn controversy, as well as her own termination, which came after she refused to defend Trump’s travel ban.

On Wednesday night, Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) invited Comey to testify before the committee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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