Members say they prefer to handle inquiry internally.

February 15 at 2:11 PM
Senate Democratic leaders rejected on Wednesday a push by some of their members to appoint an independent commission to investigate the charges that the Trump administration — including ousted national security adviser Michael T. Flynn — had frequent contacts with Russia during and after the 2016 campaign.Instead, Democrats largely agreed to handle the probe into Trump officials’ links to Russia inside the Senate — specifically, through an already launched investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The decision was made at a Wednesday morning Democratic conference meeting hastily called by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.). Schumer aimed to get his colleagues on the same page following a fresh report from The New York Times that a number of Trump campaign aides spoke frequently with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign. Flynn resigned Monday night after The Washington Postrevealed that he spoke about sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States after the election.

For now, Democrats seem to agree that the best approach to investigating Trump lies with lawmakers instead of an independent entity of some sort.

Democrats also want the Justice Department – specifically, the FBI – to continue investigating he allegations that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections in order to help Trump get elected. But they are insisting that former senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now the attorney general, recuse himself from the proceedings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told members of the media that the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely include former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian officials as part of a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Feb. 14 at the Capitol. (The Washington Post)

Schumer, Mark Warner (Va.) — the lead Intelligence Committee Democrat — and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) — who is the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee — stood together following Wednesday’s caucus meeting, signaling that they were unified in their approach. They demanded that all committee investigations related to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts with Trump surrogates be bipartisan, comprehensive, and “committed to making their findings as public as possible.”

Senate Republican leaders, meanwhile, responded to Flynn’s resignation by saying that the Intelligence Committee would likely examine the circumstances surrounding Flynn. They reiterated that position on Wednesday.

“I don’t think we need a select committee. We know how to do our work. We have an Intelligence Committee,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an interview on MSNBC.

One Republican, however, says that lawmakers should establish a “joint select committee”– consisting of members from both the House and the Senate — to examine the allegations in the Times report, if they are correct.

“Now, was this outside the norm? Was this something damaging to the country?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a Fox News interview Wedensday morning. “I don’t know, but if there were contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign operatives that was inappropriate, then it would be time for the Congress to form a joint select commission to get to the bottom of all things Russia and Trump.”

The minority party is insisting on some ground rules in the committee probes Schumer and Feinstein referred to the Judiciary committee – which has jurisdiction over the FBI – as one panel they would like to see dig into the allegations of Russia’s activities and contacts with Trump surrogates. But while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, has promised to dig into the matter, committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has not committed to a probe.

Democrats are insisting on some ground rules in any committee probes of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia — which they insist must take place in other committees as well, even if the Intelligence panel takes the lead.

Lawmakers call for preserving sanctions against Russia


Play Video8:55
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) urged Democrats and Republicans to unite to oppose dropping sanctions on Russia at a news conference, Feb. 15. (The Washington Post)

They are demanding that Trump administration preserve all its records from the transition period, citing “real concern” that officials might “try to cover up ties to Russia” by deleting emails, texts, or other documents establishing links between the Trump White House and the Kremlin, according to Schumer. Democrats are also demading that Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and other campaign officials make themselves available to testify to the committees.

Source: Senate Democrats reject push for outside probe of Trump-Russia links – The Washington Post