Democrats Pressure FBI to Fess Up on Trump-Russia Investigation

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee added to the pressure on Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey Friday, asking him to disclose whether his agency is investigating possible contacts between President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

Every Democrat on the committee signed a letter sent to Comey calling on the FBI head to “confirm that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a connection between the Russian government and President-elect Donald Trump.”

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees hold oversight jurisdiction for the FBI.

The letter was sent before all members of the House received a briefing Friday on the Russian interference campaign that was aimed at disrupting the 2016 election. On Thursday, the full Senate was given the same briefing. The intelligence findings were publicly disclosed in a declassified report last week.

The briefing left several Democrats fuming, according to The Hill. Emerging from the closed briefing, they said they were angry, worried and not confident in Comey’s leadership abilities.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told reporters on Friday that Democrats feel as though the FBI has given different treatment to its possible investigations involving Hillary Clinton and Trump. “I think a lot of people are left confused. They see Hillary Clinton treated one way. Our committee has asked if there were investigations into Russia and [former Trump campaign aide Paul] Manafort, and it seemed like we couldn’t get an answer,” he said.

But Cummings does have confidence in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is launching his own investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. “I think he will turn over every stone, and I hope that he will get the cooperation that he needs to be able to accomplish this job. But I really do believe that he will,” Cummings said.

The publication of last week’s declassified intelligence report has set off a firestorm of queries to the FBI from lawmakers. On Tuesday, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Angus King (I-Maine) grilled Comey about whether the FBI was investigating the possible relationship between Trump officials and the Russian government during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Comey demurred, provoking frustrated reactions from Democrats.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that the FBI applied for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the summer to surveil four members of the Trump team who were believed to have been in irregular contact with Russian officials.

In Friday’s letter, the House Judiciary Democrats cited the both the hearing and the Guardian report, saying it is “obvious and apparent” that the FBI has opened an “investigation of some nature.”

Like King at the Intelligence Committee hearing, the House Democrats suggested Comey’s actions before the election — divulging a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails days before the election — served as a basis for disclosure now. “Using your own words, there is now a clear and pressing need for the public to be reassured about the president-elect,” the lawmakers wrote. “Your own standard for public comment on this matter has been met.”

At least one Republican appears to be on board to press for similar disclosures, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I will be talking to the FBI about what they feel comfortable discussing publicly,” Graham told reporters Thursday afternoon. He said he would use his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism to press the issue.

The extra pressure on Comey follows a CNN report Tuesday that said top intelligence officials had briefed Trump on allegations that his campaign had a dialogue with the Russian government and that the Russians had compromising personal and financial information on him. The U.S. intelligence community has not been able to verify those claims.

Update 4:04 pm: This story has been updated to include comment from Cummings.

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