The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to request top Obama officials testify as part of its investigation into the origins of the FBI's Russia probe during the 2016 presidential election and would consider compelling their testimony, a GOP source told Fox News.
The source told Fox News that the committee, which has been investigating the origins of the FBI’s original probe through the appointment of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is considering inviting former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan to testify before the committee.
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also said last week that he wants the committee to hear from former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in the summer months.
The source told Fox News that the committee would invite the ex-officials to appear but would subpoena them if they encounter resistance. The source told Fox News that Senate investigators are looking at “various pieces” coming from “various sources” as part of their investigation.
“This is a multilevel puzzle,” the source said. “They are looking at layer upon layer, and you have to be able to tell the story of exactly what was going on, and who was doing what, when, and why.”
It is unclear, at this point, when the committee could invite the Obama officials to testify. The discussions come as scrutiny is intensifying on the awareness at the top levels of the administration of that investigation, specifically concerning former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Fox News has learned that, separately, Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has decided to declassify information about Obama administration officials who were behind the “unmasking” of Flynn — whose calls with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition were picked up in surveillance and later leaked.
One area Senate investigators are exploring is a Jan. 5, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office involving Yates, Brennan, Clapper, Comey, then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Obama.
A document unsealed last week as part of the DOJ’s motion to dismiss the case against Flynn detailed a special counsel interview of Yates, which indicated Obama was aware of Flynn’s intercepted December 2016 phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period.
The document revealed Yates learned about the calls during that meeting. At that point, the document said, “Yates had no idea what the president was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can't recall if he specified there was an ‘investigation.' Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting.”
This would eventually lead to Flynn being interviewed, amid supposed concern he had violated the obscure and never-successfully-enforced Logan Act, and later pleading guilty to lying to investigators about his Kislyak talks.
But the mention of that Oval Office meeting aligns with an email that Rice — on Jan. 20, 2017, the day President Trump was sworn into office — sent herself documenting Obama’s guidance, evidently in the same meeting, about how law enforcement should investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
Rice's office downplayed the significance of that email when it first surfaced in early 2018, though it raised questions at the time from congressional Republicans including Graham.
“President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book,’” Rice emailed to herself. “The president stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”
The email also appeared to reflect Obama’s guidance on sharing sensitive information with both the Russians and the incoming Trump administration.
Rice wrote that Obama said, “he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.”
She added: “The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.”
The GOP source told Fox News that GOP Senate investigators are now taking a closer look at that email.
Meanwhile, Graham said over the weekend that he would like Flynn to testify before the committee next month.
“As soon as his case is dismissed, we will be pursuing the Flynn investigation to try to explain how it got so off the rails, starting with offering General Flynn a chance to come to the committee and tell the country what it was like to go through this,” Graham said on Fox News' “Hannity” last week.
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