WASHINGTON – House Democrats emerged from a briefing about Russian interference in the 2016 election demanding that the FBI investigate what links may have existed between the Kremlin and President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
“The FBI should be investigating this charge, because what is it that the Russians know or have about that communication during the campaign that increases their leverage over this new administration?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said after a closed-door briefing with the country’s top spy chiefs Friday morning.
Pelosi and other Democrats stressed that an investigation into any ties between Trump and Russia was vital, particularly in light of the release of new, unsubstantiated allegations suggesting the existence of compromising personal and financial links between Trump and Russian agents. A recent CNN report said that Trump was briefed about those allegations in an abridged, two-page addendum to the intelligence community’s Russian hacking report.
But lawmakers would not – or could not – say whether the FBI was already launching such an investigation.
“You know I can’t talk about what happened in the meeting,” Pelosi told reporters asking whether the FBI was investigating links between Russia and Trump. “I can just say publicly that I think the American people are owed the truth, and there’s a great deal of evidence to say that this is an issue of high interest to the American people – the strength, the integrity of our own democracy. And for that reason the FBI should let us know whether they’re doing that investigation or not.”
Senate Democrats emerged from a similar briefing with intelligence chiefs Thursday also expressing hope that the intelligence community would dig further into alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. They also endorsed the sourcing behind the intelligence community’s findings that Russia engaged in election-related hacks to help Trump’s chances of winning.
“I thought it was terrible; it’s even worse. And if we don’t take it seriously, shame on us,” second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois told reporters about the substance of the intelligence community’s findings.
But Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., told reporters Thursday that his committee would not be looking into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government because they have no authority to demand information from campaigns that would be necessary to conduct the investigation, according to several reports.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump critic who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s panel on crime and terrorism, would not say Thursday whether he is planning to dig into potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia, deferring that question to the FBI.
“If there were contacts that are unnerving, time will tell,” Graham said. He added, in a seeming dig at Trump, that at this point, “a person of reasonable intelligence who does not conclude that the Russians did it really doesn’t want to believe the Russians did it.”
Democrats are also leaning into the agencies to further examine the unsubstantiated allegations and the source behind them. The source, according to British press, was a former MI6 agent named Christopher Steele who is now in hiding. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., told reporters that intelligence chiefs believe he was a “credible” source.
Cohen added that he thought it would be “negligent if our intelligence officials didn’t attempt to talk to (Steele) and get his sources,” because Americans “need to find out if any of it’s true.”
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are welcoming news that the Department of Justice’s inspector general is planning to investigate a series of pre-election actions by the department and the FBI.
Democrats are particularly upset about FBI Director James Comey’s decision to alert Congress that new emails could pertain to the FBI’s closed probe of Hillary Clinton’s server so close to the election, when he had rejected entreaties to sign onto an assessment that Russia was behind election-related hacks weeks before over concerns that it was too close to Election Day.
“One standard was applied to the Russians and another standard applied to Hillary Clinton,” Pelosi said, stressing that the investigation was necessary “not to re-litigate the election, but to have confidence as we go forward that we all have the same goal: strengthen our democracy, strengthen the security of our people.”
Pelosi stressed that she has not lost confidence in the FBI, but that her “concern about the FBI is the timing on their not signing of one thing, signing of the other, and that was a judgment of director Comey – unless it goes deeper, and that’s what the investigation will find out.”
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