A month after public testimony revealed that the FBI is investigating possible collusion between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russia to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House Intelligence Committee officially has invited two U.S. officials back for a second round of testimony, though this time in closed session.
The office of the committee’s acting chairman on the issue announced Friday that FBI director James Comey and National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers have been asked to return to testify during a closed session on May 2. The letters were sent Thursday.
Back on track.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
At the same time, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, announced that the committee also has invited former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to appear at an open hearing. That hearing will occur after the May 2 closed one.
It was the abrupt cancellation of those officials’ scheduled March 28 appearance that set off a chain of events that sent the House investigation into a tailspin and led to the recusal of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a member of Trump’s transition team, from involvement in the probe.
The invitations indicate that Conaway, who took over as the acting chairman of the committee, intends to follow through on his pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion on the investigation. Scheduling new hearings had become a point of division between Republicans and Democrats.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Californian who is the senior Democrat on the panel, had said he hoped for a “fresh start for the committee” with Conaway leading the investigation. After the invitations were announced, he tweeted, “Back on track.”
In his final week in charge of the investigation, Nunes had canceled a public hearing with Yates, Clapper and Brennan because, he said, the committee needed first to hear again from Comey and Rogers in a closed session.
But there was no evidence that the two officials had been invited back. There was also no evidence that Nunes had attempted to reschedule the meeting with the former Obama administration officials.
The confusion led to allegations that Nunes was stalling the investigation for fear it would discredit the president’s election victory. Nunes was an early backer of Trump during the campaign and served on his transition team.
In his final weeks leading the Russia investigation – he remains the chairman of the committee on all other matters – Nunes raised questions about the handling of classified materials by members of the Obama administration, saying he had seen classified documents that showed that the identities of Trump campaign figures had been improperly revealed.
Nunes created a furor in Washington by saying he had to rush to the White House to inform the president about what he’d found, only for it to be revealed later that the documents had come to him from the White House.
Both Republicans and Democrats who later saw the documents indicated that there was nothing illegal or exceptional in how the Obama administration had dealt with the identities of the Trump figures mentioned in them.
Nunes was forced to step aside when the House Ethics Committee announced that it was investigating whether he himself had improperly revealed classified information.
The announcement of new hearings in the House investigation came as Congress is ending a two-week Easter recess after a tumultuous series of foreign policy events that began with Trump’s ordering the firing of 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons. In the ensuing days, Trump administration officials accused Russia of failing to uphold its end of an agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stores and said Russian officials were attempting to cover up Syria’s responsibility for the chemical attack.
The unanswered question is whether the decline in U.S.-Russia relations will dampen congressional enthusiasm for an investigation into whether Russia sought to help elect Trump.
Chris Hayden, spokesman for the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington, said he hoped that would not be the case.
“Trump’s ties to Russia stretch back decades and the evidence of wrongdoing continues to mount every day, so a one-off strike that the Trump administration warned Russia about beforehand changes nothing,” he said.