Democrats use Se­nate rule to bag hear­ing on Rice ‘un­mask­ing.’

Un­clear when brief­ing might be resched­uled

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN AND AN­DREA NOBLE

Capi­tol Hill’s com­pet­ing Rus­sia-elec­tion med­dling in­ves­ti­ga­tions boiled over as Se­nate Democrats blocked a closed­door hear­ing into pos­si­ble Obama White House ef­forts to “un­mask” mem­bers of the Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, while the chair­man of the lead­ing Se­nate probe said he hoped to com­plete the panel’s work by the year’s end.

A planned Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in­quiry into whether Mr. Obama’s aides tried to im­prop­erly iden­tify U.S. cit­i­zens swept up in in­tel­li­gence sur­veil­lance of for­eign tar­gets was short-cir­cuited af­ter Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer in­voked a par­lia­men­tary rule against hold­ing com­mit­tee meet­ings be­yond the first two hours of the Se­nate’s day.

Former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san E. Rice and other top of­fi­cials from the Obama White House have come un­der sus­pi­cion that they in­ap­pro­pri­ately asked to “un­mask” Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, ap­par­ently try­ing to mon­i­tor the move­ments of Pres­i­dent Trump and his top aides.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles Grass­ley, lashed out at Mr. Schumer’s move.

“It’s dis­turb­ing and reck­less for the mi­nor­ity leader to block the brief­ing,” the Iowa Repub­li­can said. “We’ve seen too many re­cent re­minders of how un­safe the world is to­day. This is no time to play pol­i­tics with our na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Later Wed­nes­day, Ms. Rice, who is black, charged that race and gen­der could be driv­ing the scru­tiny she is cur­rently fac­ing.

“Why me?” she said in a New York Mag­a­zine in­ter­view. “I do not leap to the sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion that it’s only about race and gen­der,” she added.

It was un­clear when the un­mask­ing brief­ing might be resched­uled.

Across Capi­tol Hill, at least five com­mit­tees are cur­rently con­duct­ing in­quiries into Rus­sia’s al­leged role in in­flu­enc­ing the 2016 cam­paign, pos­si­ble ties be­tween Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and the Krem­lin and Mr. Trump’s fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey in May.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tions have bogged down Mr. Trump’s pres­i­dency, which has called al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence “a hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Democrats ini­tially ar­gued that Mr. Trump and Moscow col­luded. More re­cently they’ve fo­cused on the pos­si­bil­ity that Mr. Trump ob­structed a Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion by fir­ing Mr. Comey and press­ing key of­fi­cials to ex­on­er­ate him and drop their probes as well.

Mr. Trump’s de­fend­ers on Capi­tol Hill say the mul­ti­ple probes have yet to un­earth any­thing sub­stan­tive and should con­clude as quickly as pos­si­ble.

One of the most bi­par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tions, con­ducted by the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Rus­sian probe, vowed to do just that on Wed­nes­day, as its chair­man said they hope to fin­ish their work and is­sue a fi­nal re­port by the end of 2017.

Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Repub­li­can, told re­porters af­ter Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing that such a goal was as­pi­ra­tional but “can be done.”

His com­mit­tee held a hear­ing con­sid­er­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in re­cent Euro­pean elec­tions.

“We’ve got a very ag­gres­sive sched­ule in July,” the chair­man said. “We may dou­ble the num­ber of in­ter­views by the time we leave for the Au­gust re­cess based upon our sched­ule.”

Thus far the com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors have in­ter­viewed “well over 40” peo­ple with plans to in­ter­views nearly 90 be­fore the Au­gust break, Mr. Burr added.

He also noted that its mem­bers would soon have ac­cess to the memos Mr. Comey wrote de­tail­ing his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump.

The memos, which played a key part in the tes­ti­mony of the fired FBI di­rec­tor be­fore Mr. Burr’s panel early this month, in­clude Mr. Comey’s claim that Mr. Trump asked the FBI to drop its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn.

“I’ve got a com­mit­ment,” to ac­cess the doc­u­ments Mr. Burr told Politico, but he de­clined to di­vulge who the agree­ment was with.

Cur­rently, Mr. Comey and Depart­ment of Jus­tice Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller are known to have the memos.

Tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the com­mit­tee, in­ter­na­tional ex­perts de­scribed ex­ten­sive Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in Euro­pean elec­tions and en­cour­aged more aware­ness of the is­sue across the U.S..

Ni­cholas Burns, NATO am­bas­sador and un­der­sec­re­tary at the State Depart­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, crit­i­cized both former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Mr. Trump for fail­ing to ad­dress the prob­lem with ur­gency.

“I do think that it’s time for Congress and not the pres­i­dent to lead the re­sponse to Rus­sia’s cy­ber­at­tack on the United States,” Mr. Burns said, adding that if Mr. Trump re­fuses to act, “it’s a dere­lic­tion of his most ba­sic duty to pro­tect the coun­try.”

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