- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Senate intelligence committee convenes on Wednesday to ask the country’s law enforcement and intelligence chiefs to review the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — kicking off two days of what’s been hyped as some of the most intense congressional hearing activity in recent history.

However, speculation is that lawmakers will take the opportunity to grill the Justice Department for an update on their investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The probe appears to be on a more stable footing than last month when President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey.

Testifying on Wednesday before the Senate intelligence committee — 24 hours before members hear from Mr. Comey — will be Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. After a public hearing, they will speak to lawmakers behind closed doors.

The hearings takes place a day after news broke that Mr. Trump asked Mr, Coates in a private meeting after a broader gathering of agency heads in March to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was dismissed after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others about the extent of his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

There were also revelations that Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have had significant disagreements own the past several weeks over the president’s request that Mr. Sessions recuse himself from the DOJ’s Russia-election probe.

Issues that senators could tackle include:

• Leaks: The hearing was originally intended for top U.S. intelligence officials to testify to Capitol Hill about laws governing the scope of government spying and collection of foreign intelligence and renew key provisions of FISA — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

FISA laws have factored in several Russia-election meddling probes currently underway because Mr. Trump has claimed the Obama administration officials illegally abused the laws to spy on him and his staff during the presidential campaign and transition — then leaked what they learned to the press.

The White House has been trying to grow a serious investigation into leaks and appeared to score a victory over the weekend when news emerged that 25-year-old NSA contractor, Reality Winner, had been arrested for alleged leaking an NSA report detailing Kremlin efforts to hack voting machines during last year’s election.

Questions about the greater leak issue are urgent and could likely cover new ground.

• White House pressure: Theories abound over what Mr. Comey will say during Thursday’s hearing with Republicans likely to cross-examine his credibility and accuse him of misleading the nation during his last testimony. Democrats hope to hear firm, clear accusations that the White House obstructed the FBI’s Russia-election probe. Either way drama is expected.

On Wednesday, senators could ask for greater context about alleged White House pressure on Mr. Comey to kill parts of his investigation.

They’ll also want to know what conversations Mr. Coats and Mr. Rogers had with the White House related to Russia matters.

• First public testimony for Mr. Rosenstein.

Last month, the deputy attorney general found himself in the hottest of spotlights after Mr. Comey’s firing. The White House cited a memo he wrote as the rationale for Mr. Comey’s dismissal.

Mr. Rosenstein then appointed Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, as the special counsel for the Russia probe. The deputy attorney general then held a two closed-door briefings about his actions for lawmakers — some of whom were impressed and others who wanted to know much more.

Wednesday will be the first time lawmakers get to question him in public, with a host of questions brewing in the background, including an update on Mr. Mueller’s work.

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