Senate Targets Obama With Subpoena Vote, Putting Virus & Protests in Back Seat

President Donald Trump gestures to people in the audience after an event in the White Rose Garden on May 26. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Tuning out the two public health crises that otherwise dominate all facets of American life, a Senate committee gathered Thursday with a singular focus on the Obama administration, authorizing 35 subpoenas into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation.

The list of officials who could receive subpoenas after this morning’s 8-6 vote includes former FBI Director James Comey, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice and former Director of National Intelligences James Clapper.

“It is our job to investigate and provide the American people a complete accounting of what happened during the last transition,” said Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “The subpoena authority I am requesting today will help us gather the necessary information.”

The FBI investigation dubbed Crossfire Hurricane probed allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In addition to subpoenaing documents and testimony related to that probe, Johnson, who hails from Wisconsin, will also have authority to issue subpoenas for information on the unmasking of incoming Trump administration officials during the transition.

Unmasking is a relatively routine procedure in which high-ranking government officials may request to see the identities of U.S. citizens who are caught up in foreign surveillance. Trump and his supporters have objected to Obama administration officials requesting that the identity of incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn be revealed in calls during the transition with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is launching a probe of its own and had been set to vote Thursday on authorizing a similar set of subpoenas for documents and testimony on the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he put off the subpoena-authorization vote until next week to give members enough time to debate and vote on amendments.

The delay did little, however, to tamp down partisan tensions at the hearing.

Responding to comments from Senator Patrick Leahy calling the vote on subpoenas a low point for the committee that the Vermont Democrat once chaired, Graham said Republicans have valid concerns about the probe and will explore them even if Democrats do not.  

“You’ve made it abundantly clear you don’t agree with what I’m doing,” Graham said. “You think I’m in Trump’s pocket. I get all that. It’s not lost on me what you think. And I’m sad because I like you all. But to expect me to punt — you can forget it. We’re not going to punt.”

Democrats have condemned the subpoenas as attempts to discredit former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and to boost Trump’s chances in the upcoming election.

“I think it creates unbridled authority to go after Obama-era officials in order to bolster conspiracy theories and denigrate the president’s political opponent, Joe Biden,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said the Judiciary Committee should be looking into how President Donald Trump has responded to protests in Washington over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Pointing to the fact that Graham would have authority to subpoena former Biden chief of staff and current campaign aide Steve Ricchetti, Durbin said Republicans were going too far in their criticisms of the Russia investigation and were in fact using their probe as a political weapon. 

“I think that you have a passion about this that is singular — and not just personal because the president shares it — but it belies the reality,” Durbin said, referring to Graham.

When the committee reconvenes next week, Democrats will seek to alter the authorization to include subpoenas for prominent names with ties to Trump and his campaign, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen. 

Democrats are also expected to force votes on authorizing subpoenas for the full, unredacted Mueller report, as well as to prosecutors who worked in Mueller’s office.

Graham said he would be open to hearing from people who worked on the special counsel’s team, but cautioned Democrats to “think twice” about demanding to hear from Mueller himself.

Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are prepared to press on with the vote and that he will consider Democrats’ arguments for calling additional witnesses beyond the 53 listed in the authorization as currently written.  

“I’m not going to draw a conclusion on the merits of calling the witnesses one way or the other until I can hear the debate, but the 53 ­— I think — witnesses that are on the table, I think we will vote to subpoena them,” Kennedy said in an interview after the meeting Thursday. 

Separate from the Homeland Security Committee investigation, Graham’s subpoenas would target documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as testimony from current and former government officials and other prominent names in the fight over the probe.

Most of the 53 people listed in the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena authorization worked in the Obama administration, including Comey, Rice, Clapper, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

It also allows for subpoenas to a handful of Trump administration officials, including former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Attorney General William Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Graham could also subpoena lower-level officials whose names have become familiar in the public discussion of the Russia investigation, including Bruce Ohr, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Glenn Simpson.

Beyond the individual names listed, the committee authorized Graham to issue subpoenas for testimony and documents mentioned in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on Crossfire Hurricane.   

Graham said he would focus the Judiciary Committee’s investigation on errors in applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and on how the now-infamous Steele dossier influenced the investigation. 

“It’s trying to find out why people had their lives turned upside down, probably unnecessarily,” the South Carolina Republican said. “And I think that’s a legitimate thing for us to do and the subpoena will allow us the power to get to the bottom of it.”

Graham said he is not sure where the committee’s investigation will lead but suggested there could be serious consequences if it turns up misconduct. 

“I don’t know if anybody’s going to go to jail,” Graham said. “People went to jail in the Mueller investigation. Well, I think there are some people who are real good candidates for going to jail for manipulating the FISA application process and abusing the rule of law.”

Horowitz’s report found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in applications to surveil Page, and Rosenstein told the committee in public testimony Wednesday he would not have signed off on an application to continue the surveillance if he had known about the faults the inspector general’s report identified.

Horowitz’s report also found Crossfire Hurricane had valid underpinning and did not turn up evidence that political bias infected its operations.

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