In Congress, political sniping worsens in Russia probes

'My job isn't to make the president look good or bad,' Grassley says

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley

WASHINGTON — With Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of going rogue on most congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump added to the acrimony Wednesday by urging the GOP to “take control” of inquires into his administration and declining to say if he’d agree to be questioned in the criminal probe.

Throughout the Capitol, partisan divisions have engulfed the Russia investigations, turning what were supposed to be nonpartisan probes into political flamethrowing competitions. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are bracing for them to worsen.

“We get political up here pretty quick ... and we’ll fight among ourselves what oversight looks like” at every stage, predicted Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “as long as there is breath in us all.”

In the Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley defended the way his Judiciary Committee has handled its investigation — a day after ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California took it upon herself to release a private transcript he had refused to make public.

The Iowa Republican said he hasn’t talked with the White House or other Republicans about stifling the inquiry.

“I can tell you right out, I haven’t had those conversations with colleagues or the White House,” Grassley told Iowa reporters on his weekly conference call Wednesday. “My job isn’t to make the president look good or bad. It’s to get the facts out.”

Feinstein this week went around Grassley to publish the transcript of a 10-hour, closed-door interview in August with Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm behind a now-famous dossier detailing Trump’s alleged Russia ties, to “set the record straight.”

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She and other Democrats said the full transcript needed to be released because Republicans were selectively leaking parts of it to make the FBI look bad.

In his conference call, Grassley denied he was involved in such leaks.

“There weren’t any leaks out of my committee,” he said.

Last week, Grassley and Graham made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, suggesting it investigate former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who had compiled the dossier and met with the FBI about his findings.

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., endorsed a letter sent Tuesday to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., accusing him of orchestrating a campaign to bury a congressional probe into Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian government and defame the agencies investigating it.

“House Republicans have chosen to put President Trump ahead of our national interests,” a group of six Democratic committee ranking members wrote to Ryan, suggesting he and other GOP leaders “have blocked, stonewalled, and rejected our basic requests to investigate, hold public hearings, and advance legislation” related to Russian meddling in the election.

Underlying the political sniping is a stark division in the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.

Panel Republicans, led by chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., are developing what’s been called a “corruption” report about FBI officials involved in the Russia probe. Meanwhile, Democrats are writing a report of their own about what they see as GOP efforts to prematurely shutter the investigation.

In response, a Ryan spokeswoman said it “would be irresponsible” not to “put forward the results of the investigation sooner rather than later,” in keeping with the objective of “identifying Russia meddling in our election and preventing it in the future.”

Trump waded into the fray Wednesday by labeling Feinstein “sneaky” in a Twitter attack.

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“The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace. Must have tough Primary!” he tweeted.

Minutes later, Trump turned to the Russia investigation, which he called the “single greatest Witch Hunt in American history” and added that “Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing.”

The criminal investigation led by special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III has so far led to a guilty plea from Trump former national security adviser Michael Flynn and charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Trump would not say Wednesday if he would grant an interview to Mueller and his team.

He questioned why he would be interviewed, arguing there had been “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

Mueller’s team told Trump’s lawyers in December it is likely to request an interview with the president, the Washington Post has reported.

The Washington Post and Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times contributed to this report.

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