The Senate Intelligence Committee is starting to examine potential ties between President Donald Trump’s associates and the Russian government, united in outrage after James Comey’s abrupt firing earlier this week.
Trump’s dismissal of Comey — widely seen as a trusted protector of the FBI’s parallel investigation into Russian efforts to manipulate the 2016 election — stunned members of the intelligence panel, and hung like a cloud as the committee worked to insulate its own probe.
Neither committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) nor Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) received a heads-up about Comey’s ouster. Burr called the incident “troubling,” and Warner called for a special prosecutor. The two presented a united front throughout the week, holding a joint, impromptu press conference Thursday and meeting quietly in person almost daily.
A day after Comey was fired, the panel announced it was subpoenaing national security adviser Michael Flynn following a unanimous vote. Flynn had refused to cooperate with the committee’s probe without the promise of immunity. Though it was not a direct response to Comey’s ouster — the panel had been weighing issuing the subpoena — the timing signaled a more aggressive posture for an investigation that had been plodding along quietly for months.
The Flynn subpoena was meant to “send a signal” that the committee is willing to play tough if needed, according to one official. The panel has sent multiple other requests for information from Trump surrogates.
Flynn is the first to receive a committee subpoena, but he may not be the last. Former Trump adviser Carter Page has become a persistent challenge: He’s refused to provide the committee with material it has requested, but has still engaged with the committee frequently and without a lawyer — often emailing long diatribes about being a victim of a conspiracy.
The panel wants to hear from a long list of Trump associates beyond Flynn and Page, according to sources. But it’s unclear who besides the most commonly cited figures — Flynn, Page, advisor Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — has been called on to provide information.
The committee has been dogged in recent weeks by reports of partisan bickering, understaffing and a lack of resources. Republicans have been wary that Democrats might sabotage the probe in order to get a special commission appointed. Democrats have been equally suspicious of Republican colleagues, quietly frustrated by what they see as Burr’s lack of urgency and public progress.
But despite those issues, people close to the Senate investigation say the committee is now functioning quite well. Comey’s dismissal has fortified a sense of mission among panel members from both parties, those sources say. Burr and Warner have resolved spats that have arisen, and both men appear acutely aware of just how important and delicate their probe is — and how quickly it could go off the rails.
“We are…trying to be the adults in the room,” one official said.
Still, pitfalls remain as the panel moves forward. Some Republicans worry that Comey’s ouster could spur growing Democratic demands for an independent investigator, whether through a special commission or independent prosecutor. Burr has said he does not believe a special prosecutor is necessary.
Austin Wright contributed to this report.