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Republican Senators Seek Answers After Chaotic Week

Two key panels pressure FBI, White House for documents

Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, and ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., conduct a Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing in Hart Building titled “World Wide Threats” on May 11, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, and ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., conduct a Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing in Hart Building titled “World Wide Threats” on May 11, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans are taking a more aggressive stance against the embattled Trump administration following a series of damning reports that have sent the White House and Congress into a tizzy.

But by and large, Republican leaders say they remain focused on their ambitious legislative agenda.

Two key committees on Wednesday requested additional documentation from both the FBI and the administration regarding documentation of communication between former director James B. Comey and President Donald Trump. Some members went a step further and said that information should be subpoenaed.  

In his daily opening remarks, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell choose to focus on an overhaul of the tax code instead of questions surrounding a report published Tuesday that cited a memo from Comey and alleged that Trump attempted to influence a federal investigation into one of his top aides.

“Rather than bury our economy in an avalanche of red tape, like the last administration, it’s time for a new direction on regulations — smarter and pro-growth,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Passing tax reform legislation would mark a major achievement in bringing us closer to that goal. This Republican Congress and administration have made it a priority from the start.”

The previous day he spent most of his opening remarks focused on a rewrite of the health insurance system. 

But after a whirlwind week that also brought about allegations that Trump disclosed confidential information to Russian officials during a meeting in the oval office, some Republicans have begun to speak more critically of the White House.

“I think what’s needed is more discipline and credibility from the administration,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told reporters. “It’s the key to getting everything done. We have a big agenda to attack … and we need discipline and credibility from the executive branch.”

Several GOP senators said they would support a subpoena to obtain the Comey memo, and also called on the former FBI director to testify in front of the Senate.

“Obviously, we need to see those memos,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said. “Anything where [Comey] can further explain what was said during those conversations would be helpful for us.”

But despite a few exceptions, Republicans, including Flake, continue to resist the call from Democrats to appoint an independent counsel to oversee the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election.

“I still have a lot of confidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee. There’s a bipartisan leadership that have both very publicly committed to getting this job done and I’m confident that they can,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters.

Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, R-Va., leaders of the Intelligence Committee, announced on Wednesday they invited Comey to speak to the panel in both an open and closed session. This comes less than a week after he declined a separate invitation from the committee.

The panel also requested that current acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe provide all notes or memos prepared by Comey detailing discussions he may have had with White House or DOJ officials regarding the Russia investigation.

McConnell was down with that. 

“It’s appropriate and timely for the Senate to hear directly from former Director James Comey in a public setting as part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation,” the Kentucky Republican wrote in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California, in a separate letter, also called upon the FBI to provide the committee any memos from Comey detailing interactions with both the Trump and Obama administrations.

They also requested from White House counsel Donald McGahn any “records of interactions” with Comey, including audio recording.

As the Senate awaits further information from the administration, frustration appears to mounting among GOP members who have been forced to answer questions almost daily about the various crises at the White House.

“We’re not a news outlet, we’re a legislative office. And so we spend the bulk of our time and energy working on policy and legislation,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said. “We’ve got to deal with what we have, we’ve got to continue to work.”  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story

 

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