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Schiff announces expanded scope of House Intel Russia probe

The U.S-Russia relationship under Trump

A day after President Trump made an appeal to Congress to limit what he called "ridiculous partisan investigations," the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, announced new parameters of the panel's Democrat-led Russia investigation, calling the president's discouragement of appropriate oversight a "nonstarter."

Mr. Trump alluded to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and to inquiries by House Democrats into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in his State of the Union address Tuesday, suggesting their probes could be obstacles to bipartisan efforts to grow the economy.

"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations," he said. "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation."

In remarks to the press following the newly constituted committee's first organizational meeting on Wednesday, Schiff fired back. "We are not going to be intimidated or threatened by the president to withhold any legislative advancement if we do our proper oversight — we're going to do our proper oversight," he said.

Trump Russia Probe
Rep. Adam Schiff, D- Calif., seen Thu., Feb. 1, 2018. AP

As part of that oversight, Schiff said the committee would be broadening the parameters of its investigation into interference by Russia and other foreign entities during and since the 2016 election.

New information about "covert and overt" Russian actions that targeted members of the president's campaign and his private businesses has emerged in the two years since the election, and merits scrutiny, Schiff said in a statement.

One addition to the committee's newly established five lines of inquiry includes "[w]hether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates."

"The American people have a right to know — indeed, a need to know — that the president is acting on their behalf and not for some pecuniary or other reason," Schiff said. "That pertains to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else."

The committee will also investigate whether any of the president's policy decisions were the result of foreign exploitation and whether any foreign actors are attempting to impede congressional or other investigations into those topics.

Schiff said his committee would work with other House panels that "share a like interest and a concern." The Democratic chairs of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have previously indicated their committees would investigate some of the administration's policy choices.

Schiff also said the panel's first act had been to authorize the transmission of all of the transcripts of witness testimony as part of the House Russia investigation to the special counsel.

"The special counsel's office, the Justice Department and its elements will now have access to those transcripts for any purpose which will facilitate justice," Schiff said, noting they previously lacked usable access to the transcripts for prosecutor purposes.

In December, the committee voted to release to the special counsel a transcript of testimony provided by Roger Stone, a former Mr. Trump campaign associate. Stone was indicted a month later on seven counts of false testimony, obstruction and witness tampering; he has pleaded not guilty.

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It is unclear if the special counsel has explicitly requested access to any additional transcripts.

The committee also voted in September to release all of its more than 50 witness transcripts to the public, pending a declassification review, now underway, by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

In a statement released prior to the committee's meeting Wednesday, Republicans, led by Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-California, called for the transcripts' immediate release, citing an "unacceptable delay" in their review. The minority also requested to subpoena "numerous witnesses," including, according to Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, former FBI Director James Comey and a number of Russian nationals.

In his remarks to press, Schiff indicated the committee would seek to "expedite" the release of some transcripts, saying ODNI expected to complete its review by May or June. "There's no need to wait until they're all finished," Schiff said.

He said the majority declined to issue any subpoenas requested by Republicans because the committee intended to seek voluntary testimony before it resorted to compelling witnesses to testify.

The committee also announced Wednesday the reorganization of its subcommittee structure. Reps. Himes, Carson, Swalwell and Sewell were appointed as chairs of four new subcommittees designed to focus on "core missions" across the intelligence community.