Senate intelligence committee to compel Trump officials to testify over alleged ties to Russia

Feliks Garcia
New York
@feliksjose
Saturday 14 January 2017 01:48
Donald Trump is seen exiting a Trump Tower lift after meeting with US television host Steve Harvey on 13 January 2017
Donald Trump is seen exiting a Trump Tower lift after meeting with US television host Steve Harvey on 13 January 2017

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it is launching an inquiry into the alleged Russian hacks to influence the US election, during which they plan to interview senior members of the incoming Trump administration.

In a joint statement, committee chairman Republican Sen Richard Burr and vice chairman Democratic Sen Mark Warner said they would examine “counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 US election, including intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly lambasted the intelligence community since the December revelation that the Russian government was behind hacks against Democrats with the intention to help Mr Trump win.

Mr Trump has admitted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the likely culprit behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee. Still, he has doubled-down on his plans to continue to foster a relationship with the Kremlin as president despite the intelligence assessment that they conducted the cyber attack on the US.

In the statement released Friday evening, Mr Burr said the committee would subpoena members of the Trump team and the Obama administration “if necessary”.

“As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities,” the statement said, “we believe that it is crucial to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States.”

Mr Warner said in a separate statement that the “issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important.”

Trump calls leak "fake news" and "something that Nazi Germany would have done"

He added that the committee is “best positioned to take on” the responsibility of “full, deep bipartisan examination”.

“If it turns out that SSCI cannot properly conduct this investigation,” he added, “I will support legislation to empower whoever can do it right.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the DNC hacking controversy.

The announcement of the Senate probe into the issue comes after ranking Democrats left a briefing with FBI director James Comey. They left the closed-door meeting "concerned" and "angry" because he declined to comment on whether the FBI was investigating the reported ties between Mr Trump's team and Russia.

Security sources told The Independent that ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who conducted opposition research on Mr Trump for both Republicans and Democrats, grew frustrated that the FBI failed to take action when presented with a dossier of allegations linking the New York businessman to the Russian government.

The FBI instead sat on the dossier – which alleged Trump surrogates had been in contact with Russian officials for as many as five years – and chose to pursue inquiries into Hillary Clinton's email server, long after Mr Comey had said investigators found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General is conducting an investigation into Mr Comey's alleged mishandling of the Clinton email probe.

"Allegations that decisions regarding the timing of the FBI's release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on October 30 and November 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize same, were influenced by improper considerations," said inspector general Michael Horowitz.

Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon was reassured by the investigation.

"This is highly encouraging and to be expected, given Director Comey’s drastic deviation from Justice Department protocol," he said. "A probe of this sort, however long it takes to conduct, is utterly necessary in order to take the first step to restore the FBI’s reputation as a nonpartisan institution."