Congressional insiders leading multiple probes into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election openly worried Wednesday about their ability to investigate if the FBI seals up as a source of information in the wake of former director James B. Comey’s shocking dismissal. But they also warned the White House might have underestimated Washington’s ability to bounce back.
“The head of the investigative snake was cut off but heads grow back quickly in Washington,” a senior congressional staffer told The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.
A day later, Congress signaled the ongoing probes of Moscow’s connections to the Trump administration will continue, despite Mr. Comey’s absence, when Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr confirmed his panel has subpoenaed documents from former Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn.
In February, the White House forced Mr. Flynn to resign after reports emerged that the retired army lieutenant-general lied to Vice President Mike Pence about pre-inauguration discussions on sanctions he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Mr. Burr also denounced Wednesday the timing of Mr. Comey’s firing and voiced concerns his team’s work could be seriously hampered.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are leading the investigatory charge on Russia, but the fragmented jurisdiction over the broad subject of inquiry has crowded the space.
In addition to those probes, other related congressional investigations include the Senate Judiciary committee and its subcommittee on crime and terrorism, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Compared to the FBI, which has more than 35,000 employees, these congressional investigative staffs are generally small and compartmentalized and rely upon outside experts and entities to share information.
In the case of the sensitive and complex Russia work, the sheer amount of data to sift through — and leads to chase — has at times been overwhelming.
Some staffers explained that while the FBI could behave like a government bureaucracy and be slow to answer committee requests, especially for classified information — if the agency becomes entirely uncooperative — it could grind the committee investigations to a halt.
“These committees cross pollinate and compete and compliment each other,” a senior congressional staffer told The Times. “But if the FBI is unwilling to share — they’ll starve.”
Some Republican leadership atop the committees praised Mr. Comey’s firing.
On Wednesday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a leading Judiciary Committee member, applauded Mr. Trump for making “a difficult decision” adding that “a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa argued that because America had lost faith in the FBI, those protesting the firing should, “suck it up and move on.”
During questioning last week from Mr. Grassley’s Judiciary committee, the then-FBI director stumbled when discussing his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email during the 2016 campaign. Both Democrats and Republicans pounced on Mr. Comey’s inaccurate description of classified emails which had been compromised.
On Wednesday, Democratic leaders were irate over Mr. Comey’s firing and seemingly in disarray. They claimed the White House was involved in a cover-up, they called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to take up the FBI’s Russia probe. They also threatened to protest by slowing the Senate to a procedural crawl.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s leading Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, said he’s asked Mr. Comey to testify before the committee next week.
“My hope is that he’ll take advantage of this opportunity,” Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Comey was scheduled to testify this Thursday during an open session on “worldwide threats.” But acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe will appear in his place, according to an updated witness list released by Mr. Burr’s office.
On Tuesday, just before the Comey news broke, reports emerged that Mr. Warner had requested information related to Trump officials and campaign aides from FinCEN, a Department of Treasury agency that investigates money laundering and real estate deals.
Interest in Mr. Trump’s finances flared up Monday when Mr. Graham said during a hearing he wanted to investigate potential business ties between the Trump Organization and Russia. Mr. Graham later clarified that he wasn’t targeting Trump business deals but really wanted to probe “all things Russia.”
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