Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are getting restless.
The committee announced its investigation into Russian election interference in January. Ten months later, the panel is still digging for information, frustrating members who were never enthusiastic about the probe to begin with. Many say they are ready to close the books on the matter.
“I think this investigation has gone excruciating slow,” Rep. Chris Stewart(R-Utah) told The Hill. “We’ve been doing this for more than a year. We started looking at it on the committee in September [of 2016].”
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who is leading the Russia review, told reporters he intends to wrap up the investigation “as soon as I can.”
“I have no interest in prolonging this one second longer than it needs to,” he said, adding that the committee intends to do a thorough investigation and “that takes some time.”
The Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional panels investigating Russian involvement in the presidential election. Despite regular eruptions of internecine fighting, the panel has produced one of the most significant public contributions in the Russia saga to date — it was at an open committee hearing in March that then-FBI director James B. Comey confirmed the federal investigation into the matter.
But investigation for months has been wracked by political infighting, with Democrats at times accusing Republicans of tilting the scales in a partisan direction.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, stepped back from leading the investigation earlier this year amid allegations that he was distorting intelligence information to shield the White House from scrutiny.
The original investigation, limited to Russian interference, has branched out in several new directions. Lawmakers are looking at the unmasking of Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports, as well as the provenance of an unconfirmed dossier about President Trump.
This week, the panel also said it would be opening a probe into the 2010 sale of a U.S. uranium company to a Russian energy giant. Democrats dismissed that review as distraction.
The offshoots from the main Russia investigation have slowed the committee’s work, some members say.
“I don’t want to say they’ve derailed the timeline, but it’s certainly slowed things down,” Stewart said.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who is assisting Conaway in leading the probe, disputed the idea that side issues have hindered the core investigation. But he warned that the panel runs the risk of “spinning its wheels.”
“At some point you are going to reach a saturation point where the information, the facts and the evidence are all saying the same thing. There’s nothing new and just keeping it open for the sake of keeping it open is spinning your wheels,” he told The Hill.
“We owe the American people a report and the intelligence community a report and I would like that to be sooner rather than later,” he added, citing a desire not to waste taxpayer dollars.
Rooney expressed confidence that the panel could complete its work by the end of the year — a deadline that the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), called “unrealistic.”
Democrats say the panel has much more to do. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have more witnesses they want to interview; Conaway on Wednesday said he didn’t “even have a ballpark” figure for how many.
“I know [former White House strategist] Steve Bannon has been out there calling for an end to the investigations and I think those calls are having an effect,” including on the Intelligence Committee, Schiff said.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said Republicans have hampered the investigation by failing to use their subpoena power against witnesses.
“I would love to wrap it up as soon as we can and in a comprehensive way — meaning that witnesses are actually asked to turn over relevant documents. Part of the problem right now has been that witnesses are coming in without turning over what we’ve asked,” he said.
Swalwell said in one case, the committee knew a witness had been in contact with a Russian “through a subpoenable platform” but the Republican leadership would not compel the company to hand over the messages.
Republicans, for their part, complain after marathon witness interviews that Democrats unnecessarily prolong the sessions and don’t have serious questions.
“With what we have right now and the interviews that we’ve done, I feel pretty confident in issuing a report — I don’t know if it’s going to be bipartisan or not, but we all know the same thing down there,” Rooney said Thursday, referring to the committee’s secure spaces in the Capitol basement. He noted that new evidence could still come to light that would change that assessment.
It remains to be seen what the resolution of the committee’s investigation will look like.
Congress does not have power to bring charges against anyone — that power rests with Special Counsel Bob Mueller — and many lawmakers see their core obligation as figuring out how to prevent Russia from interfering in future elections.
When Nunes and Schiff announced the probe in January, they agreed to focus on four things: identifying Russian “active measures” against the U.S., probing any links between Russia and political campaigns, evaluating the U.S. government response to Russia and investigating any leaks of classified information related to the matter.
“Those are the most important questions we should ask ourselves,” Stewart said Thursday.
“From that [beginning] has come a lot of other things. I don’t want to say they’re not important, but they’re not as important to me as those core questions. We’re going to have another election in 12 months,” he said.
But, he lamented, “politically they’re much more interesting to people.”
(via: The Hill)