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Democrats push for a broader inquiry into Russian electoral interference

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee calls for a joint investigation.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, during a break in the committee’s closed-door hearing. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, during a break in the committee’s closed-door hearing. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Leading House and Senate Democrats are pushing to expand the scope of congressional inquiries into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. Ranking House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that he would like the House and Senate investigations to merge their efforts. He also called for an independent commission to pursue its own investigation into evidence that the Kremlin meddled in the democratic process.

“What I’ve been recommending is two things. One, that the House and Senate intelligence committees do a joint inquiry, much like they did after 9/11,” said Schiff. “But that we also have an independent commission. I think the seriousness of the attack on our democracy warrants a fully independent commission as well as the joint inquiry in Congress.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the number two Democrat in the Senate, has similarly called for “a commission like the 9/11 Commission” to conduct an investigation. Such a commission could have bipartisan leadership, an extensive research staff, and broader powers of subpoena and discovery than might otherwise be available.

Durbin told ThinkProgress he doubted whether the existing congressional committees — which are led by Republicans — possess “the authority, the resources, or the will to carry this investigation to its conclusion.”

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In the days leading up to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, CNN revealed that intelligence officials had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on unverified claims of “a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries of the Russian government.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said at first that his committee’s look into Russian interference would not address the allegations against the Trump campaign, though he later reversed himself. The House committee had a similar debate over scope, said Schiff.

“We are trying to come to an agreement on the scope of the investigation,” he said. “We haven’t reached agreement on it yet, but we are trying.”

Hours after ThinkProgress interviewed Schiff, however, his office and that of the House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) put out a joint statement saying their investigation would look at “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”

But even an expanded House inquiry would not be sufficient; the best move would be to merge the House and Senate investigations, said Schiff.

“It doesn’t make much sense to have both committees doing the same investigation, calling the same witnesses, producing different reports,” he said. “I think that duplicates a lot of effort and wastes a lot of agency time, having witnesses testify the same thing multiple times.”

This post has been updated to include the joint statement from the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee.