House intel panel issues subpoenas in probes of unmasking & alleged Russian 2016 interference
Three of the subpoenas seek information about how and why the names of President Donald Trump’s associates were revealed and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition period after the election, a process known as “unmasking.”
The committee subpoenaed the NSA, the FBI and the CIA for information on requests for unmasking made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. The three Obama-era officials did not receive personal subpoenas, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The names of American citizens who are caught up in incidental surveillance are protected by law, with very few exceptions granted to unmask them, even within classified material.
The inclusion of Power, who had not previously been mentioned as a potential witness, could mean that the Republican-led committee is casting a wider net in its investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Her role in the unmasking appears to the committee larger than previously known, even eclipsing the roles of Brennan and Rice, unnamed Capitol Hill sources told Fox News.
Four of the subpoenas are related to the Russia investigation. The committee subpoenaed disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the Flynn Intel Group LLC, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and the law firm Michael D. Cohen & Associates PC, Representatives Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Adam Schiff (D-California) said on Wednesday afternoon.
They are focused on the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as on Flynn, who was fired three weeks into the new administration for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his meetings with Russian officials.
"We hope and expect that anyone called to testify or provide documents will comply with that request, so that we may gain all the information within the scope of our investigation,” Conaway and Schiff said in a joint statement. “We will continue to pursue this investigation wherever the facts may lead."
Conaway took charge of the investigation after Chair Devin Nunes (R-California) stepped down from the probe in early April due to accusations filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Nunes called the accusations that he improperly shared classified information with the White House “entirely false.”
Top House Democrats began calling for Nunes to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russia in March, following the revelations that he had met on White House grounds with a source who showed him secret US intelligence reports. He then told journalists and White House officials that Trump or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies. It was only after those briefings that he discussed the source’s information with Democrats on the committee.
Despite recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Nunes signed all seven subpoenas, Fox News reported, describing his actions as “standard practice.”
Nunes contends that he merely “stepped aside” from the investigation, and it was not a formal recusal. On May 19, he told Fox News that he is still presiding over the unmasking investigation.
Before the subpoenas were issued Wednesday, Trump accused Democrats of blocking the testimony of a former adviser, Carter Page, about potential collusion with Russia.
"So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing 'the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan...' Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted, referring to the FBI director he abruptly fired.
Schiff, the committee’s ranking member, took umbrage at Trump’s accusations, and responded with a tweet of his own.
The four Russia-oriented subpoenas were all requested by Schiff, and are duplicative of subpoenas issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to Fox News.
The House Intelligence Committee is running one of the three investigations into alleged Russian interference in the election, and possible ties between Trump associates and Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee is running its own inquiry, while the FBI has carried out a broad counterintelligence investigation since July 2016. The Department of Justice appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a Special Counsel in the bureau’s investigation in mid-May.