Republican-led U.S. Senate panel approves subpoenas for Obama-era officials and politicos

A hallway just off the U.S. Senate floor, normally a busy spot for lawmakers to be interviewed by reporters, is empty during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican-led Senate committee on Wednesday voted to move forward with subpoenas and depositions of dozens of Obama-era officials over the objections of Democrats who say the panel’s inquiry is intended to boost President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved moves to subpoena and take depositions from witnesses who the Republican majority say are relevant to its investigation into “Crossfire Hurricane,” a code name the FBI used for an investigation it opened during the 2016 election campaign into allegations that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.

Trump and his supporters have aggressively denied such collusion and have suggested that the Obama-era inquiries were politically motivated.

An investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. But Mueller published a report outlining extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives who sought to influence the election.

The committee’s Republican majority approved subpoenas and deposition demands for former Obama administration officials including national security adviser Susan Rice, CIA director John Brennan, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and State Department official Jonathan Winer, as well as political supporters Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer. None of these individuals immediately responded to requests for comment.

However, the committee did not vote to move forward with a subpoena for Bridget Brink, the U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, which a committee source said related to an investigation which Committee Chairman Ron Johnson is conducting into dealings in Ukraine involving Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

During the meeting, Republican committee member Mitt Romney indicated he would vote against a subpoena for Brink, expressing concern the committee’s interest in Biden had “the earmarks of a political exercise”. But Romney did vote to move forward with other subpoenas and depositions.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Jonathan Oatis