Senate Approves Volley of Subpoenas to Lash at Russia Probe

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks last month with reporters on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) ­— Over objections from Democrats who called the probe a political stunt, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans voted Thursday to approve subpoenas as part of a broad inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation.  

The vote gives Senator Lindsey Graham authority, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to subpoena 53 people who have become familiar characters in the story of the early days of the Russia investigation, which was dubbed Crossfire Hurricane.

Republicans have turned their focus to the origins of the probe in the year since former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation wrapped up.

Graham’s probe comes six months after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported that his office found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s applications to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page while investigating whether the campaign had coordinated with the Kremlin on interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump, a close ally of Graham’s, has loudly decried the Russia investigation as a politically biased effort to drag down his campaign and administration, even though the Horowitz report found the FBI had sufficient reason to begin the investigation and did not find evidence the investigation was tainted by political bias.

Graham said Thursday the committee’s investigation will focus on the Page applications and the extent to which the now-infamous Steele dossier played a role in how Crossfire Hurricane unfolded and suggested the results of the investigation could bring serious consequences.

“Anybody that was told about the unreliability of the dossier and continued to use it, they are good candidates to go to jail or lose their job,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Horowitz did not find evidence the Steele dossier played a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane, but did find the document was used in seeking surveillance of Page.  

Under the resolution approved on a 12-10, party-line vote Thursday, Graham can subpoena former Obama administration officials like former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey and former national security adviser Susan Rice. 

Several Trump administration officials, including Attorney General William Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, would also face subpoena, as would a list of lower-level officials whose have long been of interest to Republicans, including Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr. 

Graham would also have authority to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony referenced in Horowitz’s report and to anybody who worked on Crossfire Hurricane or was involved in receiving the Steele dossier.

Democrats unsuccessfully sought to amend the authorization to include people with ties to the Trump campaign, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Republicans defeated the amendments in a series of party-line votes, though Graham said he would be interested in hearing from people who worked on Mueller’s team, or from the former special counsel himself.

But to Democrats, the lack of interest in the additional witnesses revealed the investigation was more about politics than about the truth behind the Russia investigation.

“I don’t understand why the other side would want an investigation and yet prevent the acquisition of material,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, said.

Feinstein also warned Graham the terms of the authorization would cut out the minority from the investigation, setting a poor precedent for future iterations of the committee that might have a different partisan makeup.

Committee Democrats further argued Republicans were conducting their probe at the expense of other business, including police reform efforts.

“The streets of America and the world are afire, figuratively, with the passion people feel for justice,” Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who offered many of the amendments to the resolution, said Thursday. “We are in the midst of a pandemic. We know full well the state of the economy. And yet we are going to do the bidding of the president to consider an issue which may be of some value to him in his re-election campaign.”

A week after hours of heated debate over the subpoenas in the committee, Graham forcefully defended his choice to launch the investigation, saying Mueller had the opportunity to look into allegations of the Trump campaign coordinating with the Russian government and that it is now the committee’s turn to look into how that investigation began.

“It’ll be a collaborative process, but you’re trying to stop me from doing something I think the country needs to do and I’m not going to be stopped and we’re not going to move on,” Graham said.  

Rosenstein told the committee in public testimony Wednesday tha he still supported Mueller’s investigation even though he would not have authorized Page’s continued surveillance had he known what Horowitz would later find.

“I believed at the time — and I still believe — it was the right decision under the circumstances,” Rosenstein told senators Wednesday of his decision to appoint Mueller.

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