Senate approves subpoenas of Obama officials in Russian collusion probe

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By  – The Washington Times

A Senate committee approved subpoenas Thursday for more than 50 mostly Obama-era officials in a dramatic escalation of the investigation into origins of the Trump-Russia collusion probe.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is wielding the subpoena power, said the move will finally put on the hot seat top officials, including former FBI Director James B. Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Comey and McCabe and that whole crowd — their day is coming,” Mr. Graham said.

Others targeted for subpoenas are former National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper, former CIA chief John O. Brennan, former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and FBI officials Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, James Baker and Bill Priestap.

The panel’s politically charged inquiry has the potential to rewrite the Russia collusion narrative that until recently dominated Washington and colored voters’ views of the Justice Department and the Obama administration, in which presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden served as vice president.

Democrats said the investigation is a fishing expedition intended to smear President Trump’s political enemies as the campaign season heats up.

“Never has a chairman devoted the full weight of this committee’s resources to pursue a wholly partisan investigation after being prompted by a presidential campaign,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and a panel member.

The committee’s probe also is a response to public pressure from Trump supporters who are frustrated with the lack of accountability for top officials at the FBI and Justice Department who publicly pushed the unsubstantiated collusion accusations.

Accusations of collusion with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election dogged Mr. Trump since he took office and fueled Democrats’ charges that he occupies the Oval Office illegitimately.

Most of Mr. Trump’s term was conducted under the cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which failed to dig up evidence of collusion or charge any Trump allies on charges related to conspiring with Russia.

Mr. Trump calls the Russia probe a “hoax.”

His supporters think it was a political hit job orchestrated by Democrats with the help of a deep state.

In a party-line vote, Republicans on the panel granted Mr. Graham the authority to subpoena individuals for documents and testimony about the origins of the Russia probe.

Mr. Graham has the power to subpoena “any current or former executive branch official or employee involved in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the name of the FBI’s investigation into alleged ties to the Trump campaign and Russia.

He also has the authority to subpoena individuals involved in the dissemination of a report by former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a salacious but unverified opposition-research dossier against Mr. Trump funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Fusion GPS founder Glenn R. Simpson and Nellie Ohr are expected to receive subpoenas for their roles in commissioning and distributing the dossier.

Republicans contend that mounting evidence suggests the Russia probe was not on the up and up.

A report last year by the Justice Department inspector general found multiple errors and omissions in the FBI’s application for a court order to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The omissions, which included potentially exculpatory evidence, have raised questions about whether Mr. Page was a political target by anti-Trump officials in the FBI before and after the election.

Mr. Graham also wants to probe the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

The Justice Department moved this year to dismiss the case after spending roughly two years prosecuting it. The department said the FBI did not have a sufficient basis to interview Flynn because it sought to close the case after failing to uncover wrongdoing.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, accused Mr. Graham of going over “ground that has already been covered.”

In a bid to upend the subpoena vote, Democrats sought to add a series of amendments to compel testimony and documents from Mr. Trump’s allies.

Among the individuals Democrats want to be subpoenaed are former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and Flynn.

The amendments were defeated easily in a series of party-line votes.

“The fact that you are turning down every single relevant witness tells us and tells the world this is an irrelevant investigation,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Graham clapped back that Trump associates were heavily scrutinized in the Mueller probe.

“I don’t understand why you would want to do the Mueller investigation all over again after we’ve spent 2½ years and $25 million doing it,” said Mr. Graham. “I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the way people liked, but it is behind us. Now we are going to look at what happened and the misconduct involved and hold people accountable.”

Under committee rules, Mr. Graham cannot issue a subpoena unilaterally. The committee chairman can issue a subpoena only with the consent of the ranking member or a committee vote.

Democrats said the granting of subpoena power to one person violated the committee’s bipartisan spirit. They accused Mr. Graham of trying to grant himself “unilateral subpoena authority.”

“The resolution would give the chair sole authority to issue literally hundreds of subpoenas without any agreement from the ranking member of any committee to vote on any specific subpoena,” said Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted last week to authorize subpoenas from individuals associated with the Russia probe. It is not clear how the two committees will work together with similar investigations and subpoenas.

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