April 21, 2017 / 4:27 PM / 8 months ago

Top U.S. officials to testify in Trump-Russia probe reboot

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Friday it had invited FBI, NSA and Obama administration officials to testify as it restarts its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

After stalling over the committee chairman’s ties to President Donald Trump’s White House and disagreements over who should testify, the bipartisan committee said it sent a letter inviting James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to appear behind closed doors on May 2.

A second letter invited three officials who left the government as President Barack Obama’s administration ended - former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates - to appear at a public hearing to be scheduled after May 2.

The planned hearings are the first the committee has announced since its chairman, Republican Representative Devin Nunes, recused himself from the Russia investigation on April 6 after receiving information at the White House about surveillance that swept up some information about members of Trump’s transition team.

Echoing Trump, Nunes suggested that Obama’s administration had handled that information incorrectly.

Nunes remains the committee’s chairman.

TIES TO TRUMP

Sally Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, July 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Comey and Rogers testified in a public hearing on March 20. At that hearing, Comey confirmed for the first time that the FBI was investigating possible ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia as Moscow sought to influence the election.

Nunes was a supporter of Trump’s campaign and a member of his transition team. His decision two days after the public hearing to hold a press conference about the information and discuss it with Trump before disclosing it to Democrats raised questions about whether he could lead a credible investigation.

Committee Democrats also were angered when Nunes scrapped a scheduled public hearing with Brennan, Yates and Clapper. A planned closed hearing with Comey and Rogers also was put off.

The House panel is examining whether Russia tried to influence the election in Trump’s favor, mostly by hacking Democratic operatives’ emails and releasing embarrassing information, or possibly by colluding with Trump associates.

Russia denies the allegations, which Trump also dismisses.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a separate, similar investigation.

Senate investigators currently are interviewing analysts and intelligence agents who prepared public and classified reports in January that concluded that Russia had interfered in last year’s election on Trump’s behalf, an official familiar with the congressional activity said.

At this point they are a long way from scheduling interviews or hearings with any principal witnesses from either the Obama or Trump administrations, the official said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Mary Milliken

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