The Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday to reaffirm and broaden Chairman Ron Johnson’s subpoena authority for witnesses in for an inquiry into the Russia investigation.
The panel’s June business meeting had authorized subpoenas for 33 Trump-Russia figures, and, after efforts by Democratic ranking member Sen. Gary Peters to throw up roadblocks, the Wednesday meeting reauthorized the subpoenas for all of them in an 8-6 vote, in addition to approving subpoena authorization authority for seven more possible witnesses: Cambridge professor and FBI informant Stefan Halper; Halper’s FBI handler Stephen Somma; James Baker, the director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tashina Gauhar; former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe; top DOJ official Bruce Ohr; and John Tefft, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama.
“We are here today … to overcome a ridiculous assertion by the ranking member regarding committee subpoena rules and, while we’re at it, to vote on subpoena authority for seven additional individuals based on new information,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Regarding the committee subpoena rules, Senator Peters has raised a procedural objection based on an absurd interpretation of committee rules. According to Senator Peters, when the committee authorized deposition subpoenas on June 4, that vote did not include the authority to actually schedule any depositions.” The successful Wednesday vote overcame that Democratic objection.
The Wisconsin Republican lamented that “the witness that Senator Peters encouraged to ignore a committee subpoena is former State Department employee Jonathan Winer” who “played a key role in disseminating the Steele dossier to officials within the State Department” and “was also one of only two witnesses who refused to cooperate with the Department of Justice inspector general’s review.”
That August subpoena came after a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference revealed that after British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, Steele asked Winer to “either destroy all the earlier reports Steele had sent the Department of State or return them” to Steele.
“So, I destroyed them, and I basically destroyed all the correspondence I had with him,” Winer said about information that was on his personal devices. Winer claimed Steele “didn’t want [the Russian intelligence services] deconstructing his network.” Before the dossier, between late 2013 and January 2016, Steele provided at least 110 reports on Ukraine and Russia to Winer.
Democrats, including Peters, have consistently opposed the committee’s inquiry, arguing it is being conducted for political reasons.
“This is our third business meeting on a very partisan investigation, yet we continue to face an unprecedented public health and economic emergency,” Peters said. “Almost 200,000 Americans have died during this pandemic, and nearly forty million Americans have lost their jobs. I’m disappointed that our committee is once again meeting to discuss the authorization of subpoenas instead — let me say that again — instead of the serious challenges facing Americans. Today we’re voting on an unprecedented forty subpoenas to further the chairman’s investigations into Crossfire Hurricane and the unmasking of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn’s name.”
A report on the FBI’s Russia investigation released by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in December said the bureau concealed significant information provided by Halper, a confidential human source who was dubbed “Source 2.” Halper worked as an FBI informant in 2016 and recorded discussions with at least three Trump 2016 campaign members: campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, campaign associate Carter Page, and campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis. While Halper worked for the FBI, he received thousands of dollars from the Pentagon, ostensibly for academic research.
When Halper’s role as an FBI informant was leaked to the media in May 2018, it led to accusations from Trump and Republicans that the Obama administration used Halper as part of an illegal effort to spy on the Trump campaign, dubbed “Spygate” and later “Obamagate” by allies of the president. The recorded denials of Russian collusion made by Page and Papadopoulos were never passed to the FISA court.
The Wednesday meeting agenda summed up the authorizations as a “motion to authorize the Chairman to issue notices for taking depositions, subpoenas for records, and subpoenas for testimony, to individuals relating to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation; the DOJ Inspector General’s review of that investigation; and the ‘unmasking’ of U.S. persons affiliated with the Trump campaign, transition team, and Trump administration. The committee also approved a “motion to authorize the Chairman to issue subpoenas for testimony and notices for taking depositions to individuals relating to Burisma Holdings and actual or apparent conflicts of interest with U.S.-Ukraine policy.”
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report concluded in April 2019 that Russia interfered in 2016 in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
Horowitz’s December report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page in 2016 and 2017 and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s discredited dossier. Steele put his research together at the behest of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm. Declassified footnotes show the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation and used it anyway.