President Trump’s call for former President Barack Obama to answer questions about spying on his 2016 campaign was taken up Thursday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who welcomed both presidents to testify.
The South Carolina Republican announced that his committee will hold hearings next month on moves by the Obama-era FBI and intelligence community to advance the Trump-Russia collusion case.
“Both presidents are welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other,” Mr. Graham said. “If nothing else, it would make for great television. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama have the most caustic relationship in recent memory between a sitting and former president.
Mr. Trump has accused his predecessor of using the national intelligence apparatus to sabotage his campaign and his transition team. Mr. Obama has said his successor is destroying the rule of law by undoing criminal charges against former Trump administration officials.
Mr. Graham extended his invitation to the two presidents within hours of Mr. Trump saying his predecessor “probably” directed U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on him.
“Yes, he probably directed them,” Mr. Trump said on the Fox Business Network. “They’re all bad … but here’s the thing: It was impossible for it to happen without the man that sits right in that chair in the Oval Office — he knew everything. The president knew everything — President Obama and Vice President [Joseph R.] Biden — they knew everything.”
The committee will examine Obama-era abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the targeting of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as well as the Trump Justice Department’s decision last week to drop the case against Flynn.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia collusion probe but later withdrew his plea. The Justice Department last week moved to dismiss the prosecution altogether.
A federal judge in the case has not granted the request and instead said he could pursue contempt or perjury charges against Flynn.
Mr. Graham said his committee will investigate why the charges against Flynn were dropped and why multiple Obama administration officials requested to “unmask” Flynn’s identity in a phone call with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition.
The committee also will investigate alleged FISA abuses related to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who was accused by Democrats of conspiring with the Russians to help Mr. Trump win in 2016.
Lastly, Mr. Graham said the committee will evaluate whether it was proper for Robert Mueller to have served as special counsel in the Russia collusion probe. The roughly two-year investigation ended with no charges of conspiracy being brought against Mr. Trump or members of his campaign.
Mr. Graham previously suggested his committee, comprised of 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, will investigate the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Trump officials. Thursday was the first time he invited Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama to meet with lawmakers.
Two Republican senators this week released the names of top Obama administration officials who had put in “unmasking” requests and might have gotten the identity of Flynn.
The list included Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Biden has denied knowing anything about the investigation.
Other officials involved in the unmasking were former FBI Director James B. Comey and ex-intelligence chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper.
Mr. Clapper on Thursday characterized unmasking requests as fairly routine and said the requester wouldn’t have known Flynn’s identity ahead of time.
“What you’re trying to determine — does this pose a threat to national security?” he said on CNN, where he is a paid contributor.
Mr. Clapper also denied leaking news of a December 2016 phone call to a Washington Post columnist.
Mr. Brennan tweeted Thursday that the president’s “propaganda & disinformation machine, which operates according to a despot’s playbook, is the most aggressive & odious in history.”
“It far surpasses even Russia’s ability to trample the truth, harm U.S. security, & undermine America’s reputation worldwide,” he tweeted.
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, tweeted in response, “I concur.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter to reiterate his desire for Mr. Obama to answer questions about the surveillance.
“If I were a Senator or Congressman, the first person I would call to testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR, is former President Obama,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He knew EVERYTHING. Do it @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more talk!”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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