WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee’s new Democratic leadership will scrutinize “credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise” involving the businesses of President Donald Trump and those closest to him, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday, one of several priorities as lawmakers open a fresh investigation into the president’s alleged Russia ties.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., outlined a five-point plan for the committee’s investigation, encompassing everything from Russia’s election interference to the question of whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates. Schiff indicated the panel uncovered evidence of such vulnerabilities while under Republican leadership but neglected to pursue it.
“For the last two years, the Republican majority has essentially been missing in action when it comes being a coequal branch of government,” Schiff said Wednesday, promising that Democrats are “not going to be intimidated or threatened” by Trump’s warnings against the Democrat-led investigations. “That ended with the midterms. We’re going to do our jobs.”
But not without pushback from Trump, who railed Wednesday against the idea of Schiff pursuing an investigation into his finances, accusing him of “presidential harassment.”
“Under what basis would he do that? He has no basis to do that,” Trump told reporters, when asked about Schiff’s plans to expand the scope of the House Intelligence Committee’s probe. “No other politician has to go through that. It’s called presidential harassment. And it’s unfortunate. And it really does hurt our country.”
The committee published its investigative plan after members voted unanimously to give Special Counsel Robert Mueller copies of all the interviews the committee conducted during its GOP-led probe. Democrats have long questioned whether some witnesses lied to lawmakers during those interviews, and they plan to make obstruction of justice another focus of their planned probe. In the meantime, members have said, they think Mueller is best equipped to determine who is telling the truth.
The committee heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including the president’s son and son-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, and others close to the president and deeply knowledgeable about his campaign and business dealings.
Schiff told reporters that the transcripts, which would be sent to Mueller immediately, include material that the special counsel’s office has not seen previously. Mueller “will now have access to those transcripts for any purpose that will facilitate justice,” Schiff said.
The panel has previously released select transcripts to the special counsel, including that of Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone and Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Cohen, who is expected to begin a three-year prison sentence next month for lying to Congress and committing financial crimes, was due to appear before the House Intelligence panel for a closed-door interview on Friday. But that session has been postponed until Feb. 28, Schiff said Wednesday.
This is the second time Cohen’s planned testimony has been either delayed or canceled. Last month, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform scheduled a public hearing with Cohen for Feb. 7, but he Cohen canceled, citing threats Trump had made to his family. Cohen is still expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed-door interview on Tuesday.
Republican members of the intelligence committee had hoped to release to the public transcripts from its unclassified interviews – which account for the vast majority – but the motion was voted down, said Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who ran the committee’s GOP-led Russia probe.
Last year, both Republicans and Democrats voted to release all of the transcript materials to the public, pending a review by the intelligence community. But that vote took place in September, and the interview transcripts still have not been cleared in the declassification review – a delay Republicans called “unacceptable” in a statement.
Schiff said Wednesday that the intelligence community had estimated it would finish vetting the transcripts by May or June, but that he was trying to get them to hurry the process by releasing some of the less-sensitive records first.
“There’s no need to wait until they are all finished to release any of them,” he said.
The panel also voted down a GOP request to subpoena “witnesses whose testimony Democrats previously sought,” according to a statement from Republican members. They did not specify which witnesses, however.
Democrats complained forcefully last year that Republicans had blocked their effort and denied their request to subpoena key witnesses. But Schiff stressed Wednesday that while Democrats wanted to accommodate GOP requests, they would not begin firing off subpoenas before potential witnesses were given a chance to appear voluntarily.
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