WASHINGTON — Democrats continued their effort to highlight damaging details about President Donald Trump contained in a special counsel report on Russian meddling in the presidential election with a hearing Wednesday featuring former FBI spy hunters.
Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee differed sharply along party lines about the findings in the report on the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the Trump campaign welcomed the interference by the Russian government because he expected to benefit at the polls.
The chairman also threatened to subpoena FBI Director Christopher Wray for information gathered on Russia and its attempts to attack the 2016 election and whether an FBI counterintelligence investigation is still ongoing. Schiff said the information sought is pertinent to his committee’s investigative efforts.
Schiff said the Mueller investigation had exposed that Trump sought to profit from a hotel he wanted to build in Moscow, and tried to conceal that plan while he was campaigning for president.
That interaction by Trump and Russian officials was “deeply compromising” because the Russians were on the other end of the transaction and could have exposed the duplicity.
But Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the panel, called the Mueller probe a “hoax” and accused investigators of leaking damaging unsubstantiated or false information to the media, which published the material.
Republicans on the panel charged Democrats with harassment of the president, and questioned Mueller’s reliance on flawed and dubious intelligence.
The Mueller investigation was launched after an FBI probe that had examined a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele that contained salacious but unproven acts by Trump.
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and Republican-called witness at the hearing, criticized the FBI for how it assessed the information in the Steele dossier.
But two former FBI espionage experts, Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, said the Russians were effective in their efforts to attack the election, and are working to attack the next one.
Russian outreach to the Trump campaign was successful largely because those working to get him elected were inexperienced in counterintelligence issues, Anderson and Douglas said.
One example cited was that of Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, who shared information with Russians and sought to profit from the relationship after the election. He was subsequently charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to prison.
Keeping the pressure on
The House Intelligence hearing was one of several this week that Democrats have held in the House to keep the spotlight on the Mueller report findings.
A House Judiciary Committee met earlier this week to examine the report’s findings. Watergate witness John Dean drew parallels on obstruction of justice allegations against Trump and those that brought down former President Richard Nixon.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., told MSNBC that he is in talks with Mueller and expects him to testify before the committee.
And Hope Hicks, a former White House aide, is expected to appear before the committee next week, behind closed doors, although a transcript of her testimony will be released publicly.
The House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings to determine whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against the president.
Also on Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. met privately with the Senate Intelligence Committee about a 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower about the Moscow hotel project.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the panel, did not comment about the interview with the president’s eldest son.
Trump Jr. told media that his previous testimony to the panel did not need to be changed and asserted nothing illegal in his actions.
Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to provide information and testimony about a citizenship question on 2020 census forms.
The committee voted 24-15 to find the two administration officials in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas issued by the panel for the information.
Trump had asserted executive privilege over the documents. The Justice Department said the materials sought by the committee were covered under presidential privilege.