Is Senate’s Trump-Russia probe going anywhere? This panel member is doubtful

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. AP

A prominent member of the Senate panel that’s investigating Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election and possible links to the campaign of President Donald Trump is expressing “serious concerns” about the probe’s speed, transparency and direction.

“I’ve made clear to the bipartisan leadership of the committee that I have serious concerns about this investigation,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in an email response to questions. “For weeks I’ve called for the committee to move more quickly and more transparently, particularly on the key issue of following the money in this investigation.”

Wyden’s comments came as the Senate and House of Representatives investigations into Russia’s attempt to sway the 2016 elections are set to resume after Congress’ two-week recess.

They reflect that two weeks off can make a lot of difference. As the two houses of Congress headed into their recess, their investigations of possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government looked to be heading in wildly different directions.

The House investigation appeared to be in chaos. Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had recused himself from the matter after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into his possible improper release of classified information. The Intelligence Committee’s plans for hearings on Russia were stalled after Nunes canceled an already scheduled public hearing and then failed to schedule a closed-door session with the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency.

On the other hand, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation had given the appearance of being the more serious and advanced of the two.

But during the break, the House put together invitations for what it said would be two hearings, one closed and one open to the public, while the Senate returned to work with questions from Wyden and others about its probe.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said the Senate investigation is moving forward in a bipartisan manner. Monday, he could not be reached for comment.

Wyden has been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2001, and he has earned a reputation as a strong privacy advocate, willing to challenge intelligence agencies and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on surveillance programs that captured the details of cellphone use by millions of Americans.

After The Daily Beast reported Monday that the committee didn’t have a single full-time, or even an experienced part-time, investigator working on the Russia probe, Wyden renewed his concerns.

“For this investigation to be successful, the committee must recognize the enormity of the job and provide the resources to tackle it,” he said.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, spent time over the recess reminding people why the investigation matters. He spoke with David Axelrod, a former Obama political adviser who now is affiliated with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, for a CNN podcast, and said, “I think Democrats really fell down on the job if we failed to persuade the country why they should care, and that’s not a mistake we can afford to make again.”

“Probably one of the most valuable things that can come out of our investigation is an appreciation for what the Russians did, how they did it and certainly if they had the help of U.S. persons affiliated with the Trump campaign,” Schiff said. “Because one of the key conclusions of the intelligence community was that the Russians will do this again.”

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews