Second-Ranking Senate Democrat Wants Independent Russia ProbesBy
Democrat worries about ‘coverup,’ isn’t sure he trusts Comey
Independent commission, special prosecutor needed, Durbin says
The second-ranking U.S. Senate Democrat called Monday for an independent commission as well as a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin, back from a trip to Ukraine and other countries he said were worried about Russia, told Bloomberg editors and reporters in New York Monday that an ongoing investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee isn’t sufficient.
“It has to reach a point where we have public sentiment strong enough that we launch an independent, transparent investigation of what the Russians did to us,” the Illinois Democrat said. “Think 9/11.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer rejected the notion of a special prosecutor. "If there’s nothing to further investigate, what are you asking people to investigate?" he said Monday at a news briefing.
President Donald Trump, asked Monday by reporters whether there should be a special prosecutor on Russia, mouthed the word "no" to a group of health-care executives at a White House meeting with him.
“I haven’t called Russia in 10 years,” the president said. In 2013, Trump traveled to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant that he owned, and months earlier he speculated on Twitter about whether Putin might attend and "become my new best friend." During the trip he also met with more than a dozen of Russia’s top businessmen.
Separately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said for the first time that he’ll recuse himself from the investigations if necessary. A number of Democrats have called for the recusal of Sessions, one of Trump’s top campaign surrogates last year.
"I would recuse myself on anything that I should recuse myself on," the attorney general told reporters at the Justice Department.
Former President Barack Obama in December imposed sanctions on top Russian intelligence officials and agencies in retaliation for cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the 2016 election campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Durbin said U.S. allies are asking about Russian influence in the election, adding that one Polish leader in Warsaw told him, "If you don’t take Russia’s invasion into your election seriously, how will you take Putin’s invasion into Poland? Will you take that seriously?"
Durbin said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or others like them could lead such a commission and get answers.
The Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the major bipartisan congressional probe into the issue at this point, isn’t built for public transparency, said Durbin, a former member of the committee.
He said he’s worried about a potential coverup by the White House.
“The downfall does not come from the crime, it comes from the coverup, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. We need to know if anyone in the Trump campaign had any direct conversations with someone from Russia,” Durbin said.
Durbin said he isn’t personally aware of such contacts. “It’s hard to imagine how some of these leaks could have been so conveniently timed if there wasn’t coordination," he said.
In Washington, Representative Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, continued Monday to reject calls for a special prosecutor. But he said his committee is finalizing an expansion of its own inquiry into claims of Russian tampering in the election, and of possible Trump campaign contacts with Russians.
"As of right now, we have no evidence," said Nunes, of reports that that three individuals had contacts with Russian agents.
"W will continue to ask for evidence, look for evidence. Not only on the three Americans who are named in that story -- but also any other American that had any contacts with Russians," he said.
But "we can’t have McCarthyism back in this country," he added. "We can’t have the government, the U.S. government -- the Congress, the legislative branch of government -- chasing down American citizens, hauling them before the Congress as if they are some secret Russian agents."
The top Democrat on Nunes’ committee, Adam Schiff of California, said it’s too early to rule out that contacts occurred between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
"First of all, we haven’t received any of the evidence yet," said Schiff. "We can’t draw any conclusion, nor should we." Schiff said he "strongly" disagreed with Nunes’ comment about McCarthyism. At this stage, the committee shouldn’t exclude anyone as potential witnesses, including White House officials, the lawmaker said.
Officials in Eastern Europe, meanwhile, told Durbin they are engaged in a "hybrid war" with Vladimir Putin’s Russia -- on military, cyber and propaganda fronts -- including interference in their elections.
“They live with it, it’s part of their political scene,” Durbin said. “They look at the United States and say, this great power for democracy is going to stand by and let Putin make a mockery, try to make a mockery of your election?" he said. "And it leaves them, you know, struggling to understand.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation was questioned following a Washington Post report Friday that panel Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina called reporters at White House behest to try to knock down stories about contacts between Russia and Trump associates.
The intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, said he expressed "grave concern" to Burr that such actions may harm the independence of the investigation. "I will not accept any process that is undermined by political interference," Warner said.
Durbin said he’d like to see a special prosecutor, but noted that Sessions would have to make the appointment. Sessions also has the power to stop or slow down FBI investigations, the senator said.
Durbin said he hopes FBI Director Jim Comey goes forward with an investigation, but isn’t sure he trusts him after Comey’s extraordinary decision to announce he was probing e-mails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop a week and a half before the election, which many Democrats blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
“Right now do I trust him to complete the investigation, if he’s allowed to complete it by the attorney general and the president, if he’s allowed to? I don’t know," Durbin said. "I can’t say with certainty. He may be trying to redeem his professional reputation by having a serious and professional investigation.”