House Intel hears from ex-FBI officials in wake of Mueller probe

House Democrats angling to spotlight damning allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report are focusing Wednesday on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, the matter of the first volume of the report.

The House Intelligence Committee invited three officials to testify about the counterintelligence implications of Mueller’s investigation, including Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, both of whom retired from the bureau before it launched its investigation into the Trump campaign in summer 2016. 

Chairman Adam Schiff said in his opening statement that he wanted to know how a counterintelligence investigation differs from a criminal investigation and how U.S. individuals might be “acting as a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power.”

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In the opening lines of his 448-page report, Mr. Mueller asserted that the Russian government had interfered in the 2016 presidential election in “sweeping and systematic fashion.”

In Mr. Mueller’s first and, to date, only public remarks on the matter, he ended by reiterating what he called the “central allegation” of the indictments issued by his office.

“[T]here were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American,” Mr. Mueller said.

Mr. Mueller has so far been reluctant to reemerge publicly, despite persistent requests from congressional leaders, including Mr. Schiff, to testify publicly before committees that are continuing to probe the conduct of the president and his campaign.

The minority-invited witness is Andrew McCarthy, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and current Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute. 

Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff, in an opening statement at the hearing, said “the president’s efforts to make money from a real estate project in Moscow and to conceal the transaction from the public are a quintessential example of a counterintelligence nightmare, that may or may not include criminal activity.”

Schiff has also publicly complained about the lack of clarity surrounding the status of the counterintelligence investigation opened into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia by the FBI – an inquiry that is thought to have been separate from the criminal investigation conducted by Mr. Mueller.

At an appearance earlier this month at the Council on Foreign Relations, Schiff said the committee had “not been able to get a clear answer yet from the intelligence community or the FBI as to whether that investigation is still open, whether that investigation mushroomed into a set of other counterintelligence investigations, whether it was closed at some point.”

“And it’s troubling that we can’t get a straight answer to that question. But we are trying, and we will get an answer to it,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-California, used his opening statement to lambaste Democrats, the media, and the Mueller report, which he derided as a “shoddy political hit piece” crafted in the same spirit with the same purpose as the Steele dossier. He went on to label it the “Mueller dossier.”

After criticizing Mueller’s report for certain areas of focus or omission, Nunes concluded by saying “the only people who colluded with Russians were the Democrats.” He also slammed the committee for becoming the “mouthpiece of a cabal of intelligence leakers.” 

The hearing is the latest in a series by Democrats to focus on aspects of Mueller’s report. It comes two days after the House Judiciary Committee heard from John Dean , the former White House counsel in the Nixon administration, who described how the Watergate investigation could function as a roadmap for probes into the current president.

It also comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been brushing back calls for impeachment, saying Tuesday that “it’s not even close” to having enough support.

The House voted 229-191 Tuesday to approve a sweeping resolution that will allow Democrats to accelerate their legal battles with the Trump administration. They’re preparing Wednesday to hold more Trump officials in contempt for defying congressional subpoenas.

The far-reaching House resolution approved Tuesday empowers committee chairs to sue top Trump administration officials — Attorney General William Barr, former White House Counsel Don McGahn and others — to force compliance with congressional subpoenas, including those for Mueller’s full report and his underlying evidence.

The move makes it easier to sue Trump administration officials and potential witnesses by empowering committee chairmen to take legal action without a vote of the full House, as long as they have approval from a bipartisan group of House leaders.

Olivia Gazis contributed to this report. 

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