- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

Democrats pressed Sunday for an independent investigation of ties between Russia and Trump campaign officials during the presidential race, saying White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ conversation drawing the FBI into the political fray is the latest hindrance to an impartial investigation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called Mr. Priebus’ actions “completely inappropriate” and said they underscore the need for an independent investigator.

“You have seen a flurry of activities that are completely inappropriate — encouraging lawmakers, encouraging intelligence officials to say that something is one way or another,” Ms. Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Let’s have the investigation and find out the truth.”

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe approached Mr. Priebus on Feb. 15 to tell him that a New York Times article about the alleged extent of the Russia connection was inaccurate, CNN reported last week.

Mr. Priebus asked Mr. McCabe to go public with the information, but both he and FBI Director James B. Comey declined.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, admonished Mr. Priebus for the conversation, chalking it up to the chief of staff’s lack of governmental experience.

“Remember, these are all people who have never been in government before, and so they’re going to need to learn these things,” Mr. Christie said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I don’t think you get the learning curve just by winning the election. You develop experiences over time which tell you that.

“I can guarantee you this: I don’t think the chief of staff will ever have that kind of conversation with the FBI or FBI personnel again,” he said. “Nor should he.”

But Mr. Christie, a former adviser to President Trump, said he would not hire a special prosecutor.

“I just think, Jake — and this is whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we’ve seen it on both sides — when a special prosecutor gets involved, the thing gets completely out of control,” Mr. Christie told CNN host Jake Tapper. “That doesn’t help anybody’s purposes.”

Former CIA director John O. Brennan, who also served as a counterterrorism adviser in the Obama White House, said Mr. Priebus’ request was out of the ordinary.

“No, I never did that on behalf of the White House request, and the White House never made a request of me in that regard, particularly if it’s an investigation that by implication deals with some members, individuals who might be associated with the individuals that currently reside in the White House,” Mr. Brennan said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

He said it is “very important that that investigation be done in a bipartisan fashion.”

“If it’s only one party that’s going to be leading this, it is not going to deliver the results that the American people need and deserve,” Mr. Brennan said.

More than 100 Democrats — and one Republican, Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina — have co-sponsored a bill calling for an independent inquiry into alleged foreign involvement in the presidential race.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California, Republican, has also called for an independent prosecutor.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting the probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the general election, said “there’s no doubt that this will be a fair inquiry.”

“Now, the FBI and other intelligence agencies have reasons that they don’t go out and call balls and strikes on news stories, because we don’t want to let our adversaries know what we do know or what we don’t know or how we know it,” Mr. Cotton said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“But, again, if you take everything in that story at face value, I don’t think there’s much alarming in it,” he said, describing calls for a special prosecutor as “getting ahead of ourselves.”

“There’s no allegations of any crime occurring,” Mr. Cotton said. “There’s not even an indication that there’s criminal investigations made by the FBI, as opposed to counterintelligence investigations, which the FBI conducts all the time as our main counterintelligence bureau. If we get down that road, that’s a decision that Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions can make at the time.”

If the FBI uncovers evidence of wrongdoing, the findings would be handed over to Mr. Sessions, but Democrats have called for him to recuse himself from the case because he campaigned on behalf of Mr. Trump during the presidential race.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the scrutiny over the chief of staff’s conversation with the FBI misses the point. She said the real takeaway should be that the FBI debunked the report.

“I think the real easy answer here is that the FBI has already said this story is B.S.,” Ms. Sanders said in a statement Sunday.

“Those are their words, so I apologize to my mom. But literally those are the words of the FBI, that the story is B.S.,” she said, adding that “I think the American people deserve to know the truth, and that’s exactly what it is, that there’s nothing here.”

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