Sunday 24 June 2018

Republicans launch Obama and Clinton probes as panel questions Trump associates

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP)
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP)

House Republicans have launched new probes into the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton's emails, prompting accusations from Democrats who said the moves were meant as a "massive diversion" from investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The announcements of the investigations by three Republican committees came as two witnesses close to President Donald Trump faced tough questions before the House intelligence panel behind closed doors as part its Russia probe.

Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his former campaign digital and data director, Brad Parscale, were both interviewed by the House panel behind closed doors on Tuesday. Mr Cohen's interview started in the morning and lasted around six hours, while Mr Parscale's lasted most of the afternoon.

Two politicians familiar with Mr Cohen's interview said it had been "contentious", especially with Mr Cohen's lawyer who tried to limit some questions.

Mr Cohen, a former executive with the Trump Organisation who had been subpoenaed by the House panel earlier this year, was in talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but ended those negotiations as Trump's White House bid caught fire. In a statement to the Senate intelligence committee in August, Mr Cohen said the proposal was "solely a real estate deal and nothing more".

One of the politicians said Mr Parscale "categorically denied" he was involved in any collusion with Russia, repeating earlier public statements. Politicians have been investigating whether Russian efforts to influence social media in the US were in any way connected to Mr Trump's campaign.

As Mr Cohen spoke to investigators, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes held a news conference outside the room to announce a separate committee investigation into an Obama-era uranium deal.

Mr Nunes earlier this year stepped back from the committee's investigation into Russian election interference after criticism that he was too close to the White House. But he has continued to be involved with some aspects of it, including signing subpoenas.

Mr Nunes's investigation into the uranium deal will be a joint effort with the House Oversight and Government Reform panel. The oversight committee also announced a second new investigation on Tuesday along with the House Judiciary Committee into the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation and the decision not to prosecute her.

California Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, said the investigations show Republicans' "fundamental lack of seriousness" about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

"Acting on the urging of the president who has repeatedly denied the intelligence agencies' conclusions regarding Russian involvement in our election, they are designed to distract attention and pursue the president's preferred goal - attacking Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama," Mr Schiff said.

Representative Mike Conaway of Texas, the Republican who took over the Russia probe after Mr Nunes stepped back, said the uranium investigation will not be a distraction. "I'm not involved," he said.

Nunes and other Republicans who announced the probe said they want to know more about whether Obama's Department of Justice was investigating the purchase of American uranium mines by a Russian-backed company in 2010. The agreement was reached while Hillary Clinton led the State Department and some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated large sums to the Clinton Foundation.

While Democrats have dismissed the issue, which was also brought up during the campaign, as widely debunked, Trump has called it "the real Russia story." The White House praised Mr Nunes's move, with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying the investigation is a "move in the right direction, and something that we've spoken about several times here - that if there was any collusion whatsoever during the campaigns of any point - or any collusion at any point with another country, that they should look at the Clintons".

Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight panels also criticised the new investigations, saying in a joint statement that another round of Clinton email investigations are a "massive diversion to distract from the lack of Republican oversight of the Trump administration and the national security threat that Russia poses".

AP

Press Association

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