WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are significantly ramping up their investigations into the FBI’s Russia probe with a pair of committee votes that will give the GOP committee chairmen broad subpoena power to haul in officials from the Obama administration.
The Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees will vote to authorize subpoenas in the separate Republican-led probes into the actions of the FBI, the Justice Department and Obama administration officials surrounding the FBI’s Russia investigation, the prosecution of Trump’s associates and the appointment of former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are both preparing investigations that will scrutinize FBI and Justice Department officials as well as top officials in the Obama White House — including President Donald Trump’s presumptive general election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The two investigations, as well as another probe Johnson has started related to Biden’s son Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian energy firm, come against an election-year backdrop in which Trump has openly cheered on the probes, urging Senate Republicans to get “tough,” and Trump administration officials have declassified documents related to the prosecution of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The Justice Department has launched its own review of the FBI’s Russia investigation, and Attorney General William Barr disputed the inspector general’s conclusion the investigation was properly opened.
Both Graham and Johnson have said they expect to issue reports detailing their findings before the election.
Graham kicked off his hearings as part of the investigation Wednesday with former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller. At the hearing, Graham explained that he would be examining the origins of the FBI’s investigation and the decision to appoint Mueller in 2017.
“There are people on our side of the aisle who believe that this investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, was one of the most corrupt, biased, criminal investigations in the history of the FBI. And we would like to see something done about it,” Graham said at a hearing. “This is going to take a while, but we will not be deterred in our effort to get to the bottom of what I think was a very major abuse of power.”
Democrats accuse Republicans of abusing their committee powers to try to dig up election dirt and help Trump’s reelection in an effort to rewrite the history of Russian election interference and the special counsel’s finding that Trump’s team welcomed the help, even if they did not conspire with Russia.
“We face the danger now that this committee, this historic committee, is going to begin running political investigatory errands,” said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a letter to Johnson that the “rushed and overbroad subpoena request breaks with our Committee’s longstanding tradition of conducting serious, nonpartisan investigations.” Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement he would not be attending Thursday’s meeting in protest.
There’s little Democrats can do to stop the subpoenas from being authorized without Republicans breaking ranks, however.
Johnson’s subpoena authorization includes documents and testimony related to the FBI’s Russia investigation and the surveillance warrant obtained on a Trump adviser, the Trump transition, interactions with author of the opposition research dossier Christopher Steele and the “unmasking” requests in the Obama administration that were declassified by former acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell last month. It also includes roughly three-dozen officials from the Obama administration.
Graham’s investigation is focused on the origins of the FBI investigation itself and the appointment of Mueller, as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant obtained on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Rosenstein, for instance, was Graham’s first witness called but is not on Johnson’s list of officials. Still, there’s likely to be plenty of overlap.