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Schiff threatens to subpoena FBI for answers on Russia probes

Schiff: Trump-Moscow a counterintelligence risk

House Democrats angling to spotlight damning allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller's report focused Wednesday on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, the subject of the first volume of the report, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing. 

The panel invited three officials to testify about the counterintelligence implications of Mueller's investigation, including Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, both of whom retired from the bureau before it launched its investigation into the Trump campaign in summer 2016. 

After the hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman, said he was "running out of patience" in his effort to get answers from the FBI about the status of any ongoing counterintelligence investigations related to President Trump and Russia, and said a subpoena may be forthcoming.

"The FBI has an obligation under the National Security Act to brief us on any significant counterintelligence matter," Schiff said. "If there are ongoing counterintelligence investigations involving people around the president they must inform us and we're going to insist that they do. And we'll going to use whatever compulsion is necessary to get those answers."

During the hearing, the California Democrat indicated the so-called "Gang of 8" had not been briefed on any counterintelligence investigations related to the Trump campaign since James Comey was fired as FBI director in May of 2017.

The FBI's initial response to requests for a briefing, Schiff said, had been to offer what he called a "generic statement of process."

"That's not going to cut it," he said.

He declined to offer a timeline on a possible subpoena, but said "we're running out of patience, and if we don't get an answer soon we'll be issuing subpoenas and compelling that kind of testimony."

In the opening lines of his 448-page report, Mueller asserted the Russian government had interfered in the 2016 presidential election in "sweeping and systematic fashion." In Mueller's first and, to date, only public remarks on the matter, he ended by reiterating what he called the "central allegation" of the indictments issued by his office.

"[T]here were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American," Mueller said.

Mueller has so far been reluctant to comment further publicly, despite persistent requests from congressional leaders, including Schiff, to testify before committees that are continuing to probe the conduct of the president and his campaign.

Schiff, in an opening statement at the hearing, said "the president's efforts to make money from a real estate project in Moscow and to conceal the transaction from the public are a quintessential example of a counterintelligence nightmare, that may or may not include criminal activity."

Schiff has also publicly complained about the lack of clarity surrounding the status of the counterintelligence investigation the FBI opened into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia, an inquiry that is thought to have been separate from the criminal investigation conducted by Mueller.

At an appearance earlier this month at the Council on Foreign Relations, Schiff said the committee had "not been able to get a clear answer yet from the intelligence community or the FBI as to whether that investigation is still open, whether that investigation mushroomed into a set of other counterintelligence investigations, whether it was closed at some point."

"And it's troubling that we can't get a straight answer to that question. But we are trying, and we will get an answer to it," he said. 

On Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee, used his opening statement to lambaste Democrats, the media and the Mueller report, which he derided as a "shoddy political hit piece" crafted in the same spirit with the same purpose as the so-called Steele dossier. He went on to label it the "Mueller dossier."

After criticizing Mueller's report for certain areas of focus or omission, Nunes concluded by saying "the only people who colluded with Russians were the Democrats." He also slammed the committee for becoming the "mouthpiece of a cabal of intelligence leakers." 

The hearing is the latest in a series by Democrats to focus on aspects of Mueller's report. It comes two days after the House Judiciary Committee heard from John Dean , the former White House counsel in the Nixon administration, who described how the Watergate investigation could function as a roadmap for probes into the current president.

It also comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been brushing back calls for impeachment, saying Tuesday that "it's not even close" to having enough support.

The House voted 229-191 Tuesday to approve a sweeping resolution that will allow Democrats to accelerate their legal battles with the Trump administration. They're preparing Wednesday to hold more administration officials in contempt for defying congressional subpoenas.

The far-reaching House resolution approved Tuesday empowers committee chairs to sue top Trump administration officials — Attorney General William Barr, former White House counsel Don McGahn and others — to force compliance with congressional subpoenas, including those for Mueller's full report and his underlying evidence.

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