Politics: It looks like House Democrats just won a big victory in the Trump-Russia investigation
The House Intelligence Committee announced Friday that it had extended invitations to three former officials with knowledge of Russia's interference in the US election to testify in an open hearing in May, over a month after the committee's chairman first scrapped the session.
"Yesterday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence sent two letters related to its investigation into Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign," Emily Hytha, a spokesperson for Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, wrote on Friday.
"The first letter was sent to FBI Director James Comey and National Security Advisor Admiral Mike Rogers, inviting them to appear at a closed hearing on May 2, 2017," Hytha wrote. "The second letter was sent to former CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates inviting them to appear at an open hearing to be scheduled after May 2nd."
The letters appear to mark the end of an impasse that emerged late last month, when the committee's chairman, Devin Nunes, accused Democrats of not signing a letter inviting FBI Director James Comey to testify before the committee in a closed session. Democrats said that they did not support substituting an open hearing with a closed one and had been pushing to reschedule the open session with Yates, Brennan, and Clapper that Nunes had scrapped.
"The chairman [Nunes] requested that in lieu of a public hearing we have a closed hearing with James Comey and Mike Rogers," Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, who sits on the committee, told Business Insider late last month. "I did not support having one substitute for another."
In the end, the committee agreed to hold both the closed session with Comey and Rogers that Republicans wanted, and the open hearing with Yates, Brennan, and Clapper that Democrats had been advocating.
The compromise is arguably a bigger victory for the Democrats, however, who have been eager to publicly question Yates in particular about her knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's relationship to Russia.
Yates was fired as acting Attorney General after refusing to enforce Trump's first immigration order in late January. Earlier that month, she reportedly traveled to the White House to warn Trump administration officials that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Interest in Yates' testimony grew even more last month after The Washington Post reported that the White House had tried to prevent her from testifying publicly. The White House has denied the charge.
Brennan, the former CIA director, has also come back into the spotlight recently amid reports that he established a counterintelligence task force last summer to examine improper contact between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The investigation was based on intelligence that was handed to the CIA by foreign intelligence agencies beginning in late 2015, The Guardian reported earlier this month.
Clapper's testimony, meanwhile, will be of interest to those who feel that Trump's Russia ties have been overblown. The former Director of National Intelligence told MSNBC's Chuck Todd in early March that he had seen "no evidence" of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The break in the committee's partisan impasse comes a few weeks after Nunes stepped aside from the committee's Russia investigation. He handed the probe over to Conaway in early April amid questions about his ability to lead an unbiased investigation into President Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
Nunes, who served on Trump's transition team, came under intense scrutiny last month for his decision to bypass the rest of his committee and brief Trump on classified executive-branch documents which he said showed that members of Trump's transition team had been swept up in government surveillance.
Reports have said he obtained those documents from White House officials — despite Nunes' earlier claims that he had gotten them from an intelligence source — fueling speculation that administration officials had orchestrated the stunt to distract the press from Comey's revelation that various Trump associates were being investigated for their ties to Russia.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Nunes for bypassing the committee, calling on him to either share the documents with his colleagues or recuse himself.
"I don't know how to conduct a credible investigation if you have even one person, let alone the chairman, of a committee saying, 'I've seen evidence, but I won't share it with anyone else,'" Schiff told CNN late last month. "We can't conduct an investigation this way. That's not sustainable. It's not credible."