Senate panel to probe if Donald Trump campaign had contact with Russia

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Donald Trump

Washington: The Senate Intelligence Committee announced a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 elections, including any links with associates of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities we believe that it is critical to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States,” said chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, in a joint statement late Friday.

The committee’s investigation comes a day after the Senate received a closed-door briefing from top intelligence officials on allegations of hacking and other activities by Russian intelligence. It has the backing of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“This issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important,” Warner said. “This requires a full, deep and bipartisan examination.”

Democrats had been demanding a broad inquiry into allegations that the Russian government led cyber attacks targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Friday’s announcement marks a concession by Republican Senate leaders because they included Trump’s campaign team — and the possibility they had contacts with Russia — within the scope of the probe. They also said they would enforce interview requests by subpoena if necessary.

The investigation will be an early test of Trump’s relationship with Congress and could tie up some of his top aides with subpoenas and testimony to congressional investigators.

Warner left open the possibility that additional probes could be conducted by other committees. A number of senators in both parties, led by Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona, have pressed for a select committee to look at Russian hacking, but McConnell has blocked the idea.

McCain has also said the Armed Services panel will probe Russian hacking, both in the US and elsewhere.

Trump has rejected suggestions that hacking by Russia or other actors helped him win and has said that people should move on from this topic.

The committee statement said the investigation will include interviews with senior officials from the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration.

The senators indicated some of the hearings would be public, while others would remain behind closed doors to protect intelligence. The panel is planning to produce a public report.