House panel defines scope of Russia probe

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed on the scope of its inquiry into Russia's election influence operations as new questions arise about the attorney general's contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Devin Nunes
 

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, explained the scope of the panel's probe of Russian influence operations during the 2016 campaign.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed on the scope of its investigation into Russia's information operations and cyber activity directed at the 2016 election as the new attorney general has been dragged into the ongoing controversy.

As the House committee was releasing a statement on the scope of its investigation, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year, which he did not disclose in his Senate confirmation hearing.

That news prompted leading Democrats to call for Sessions to resign and some Republicans, including Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) to call for Sessions to recuse himself from investigations into Russia's influence campaign and contacts between Trump team members and Russia.

Sessions told NBC that he did not meet with Russian officials to discuss "any political campaign" and said that if he felt it was appropriate he would recuse himself.   By late afternoon on March 2, however, Sessions had acceded to the growing political pressure and announced that he would recuse himself from any and all investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, the House intelligence committee said it will move ahead with its investigation, which seeks to learn about any Russian cyber activity directed against the U.S. and allies, links between Russia and political campaign operatives or other U.S. persons and the nature of government response to any attempts by Russia to influence the U.S. elections. The committee also plans to probe leaks of classified information from the intelligence community to the press.

According to the joint statement by Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) announcing the investigation, they said they intend to determine whether the intelligence community’s assessment into Russia's influence campaign "comported with all relevant Intelligence Community analytic standards, and that allegations of Russian collusion with any U.S. Persons and the leaks of classified information are fully investigated."

Nunes and Schiff met with FBI Director James Comey on the morning of March 2 and spoke to reporters afterwards.

Nunes said that he had no reason to believe the FBI would withhold any information needed for the committee's investigation, and he added that he not aware of any evidence that Trump associates had been in contact with Russian officials.

However, Schiff stated that the FBI director did not provide the committee with all the answers it sought during their meeting.

"In order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we're going to need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they're conducting," Schiff said. "At this point the director was not willing to do that."

He said the director declined to answer questions about the scope of investigations and any individuals subject to investigation. Schiff said it was unclear whether that was Comey's decision or that decision was in coordination with the Department of Justice.

Schiff said the committee's investigation will go forward regardless, but it will be less credible to the American people if the FBI is not completely forthcoming.

Schiff also said at this point he believes the attorney general's impartiality is compromised, and there is now cause to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether any Trump officials or associates had improper contact with Russian officials.

Nunes did not agree with that assessment.

Note: This article was updated on March 2 to reflect Session's decision to recuse himself from election-related investigations.

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