Warner, Schiff urge independent inquiry into Trump-Russia links

By Allen Cone  |  Updated March 27, 2017 at 7:48 AM
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March 26 (UPI) -- Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff, two high-ranking Democratic members of congressional intelligence committees, suggested Sunday an independent commission should take over a probe looking into possible ties between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.

"Listen, if we could get an independent commission, I'm open to that," Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said on NBC's Meet the Press. "That means you've got to pass a bill, [and] the president's got to sign it."

Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an independent investigation on Twitter Saturday and elaborated on the issue Sunday on the CBS show Face the Nation.

"We, I think, suffered really two serious blows to the integrity of the investigation this week: one with that unilateral trip to the White House but the other with the cancellation of an open hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday," Schiff said, referring to actions by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., last week.

Schiff accused the committee chairman of acting as a "surrogate of the White House" after announcing that Trump transition officials were put under inadvertent surveillance after November's election and then briefed Trump about it. He didn't first notify Democrats on the committee.

"The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both," Schiff said.

Warner, of Virginia, had similar views

"I am totally mystified by what Mr. Nunes has said," Warner said. "And I've talked to my chairman, Richard Burr. He doesn't know. I've talked to Democrats, Republicans on the committee. I think it's fairly mystifying, if not outrageous, that he'd make these claims, then goes down and briefs the White House."

But Republican House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said Nunes had every right to brief the president on the surveillance intelligence.

"The chairman of House Intel briefed the commander-in-chief on something that has nothing to do with the Russia investigation," Gowdy said on Face the Nation. "So if the commander-in-chief cannot be briefed by the chairperson of the House Intel Committee on a matter that has nothing to do with the FBI investigation, then I don't know what they can talk about.

Last month, Warner said he had "grave concerns" about the independence of the investigation.

"We've had some bumps," Warner said Sunday. "But I am working very closely with him right now," adding, "I trust him that we will get this done. And we have a list of witnesses that I think you will see that is comprehensive. And we're going to talk to everybody involved."

The Senate will conduct its first hearing this week.

"I've said before: This is the most important thing that I've ever done in my public life," Warner said. "And what I know now as I get more and more into this, I am going to double down on that statement cause it's extraordinary."

FBI Director James Comey said at Monday's House Intelligence Committee hearing that the bureau is investigating Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election as well as the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia.

"We know that the Russians both massively interfered in our elections with both hacking [and] they had a thousand paid Internet trolls that managed to take over and flood the zone with fake news," said Warner. "And we have a series of people that are very closely affiliated with the president who have had extensive ties with Russia -- including 60 days into the administration where you've got the NSA, our national security adviser who had to resign, and the attorney general had to recuse himself because of those ties."

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