Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Alexander NEMENOV        (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Putin praises Trump, slams Russia probe
02:33 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The House Intelligence Committee plans to hold two off-site interviews next week with high-profile witnesses who have ties to President Donald Trump, prompting grumbling among Democrats who contend that the GOP is rushing to wrap up the Russia probe, with more left to investigate.

The witnesses – one is a Russian-American businessman, Felix Sater, and the other Trump’s longtime personal assistant, Rhona Graff – will be interviewed by Republican and Democratic staff next week in New York, two sources said. That could prevent lawmakers from interviewing the witnesses if they have to stay in town to vote on Capitol Hill, leaving the matter to committee staff.

The New York interviews were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which cited a Republican source who said the decision to conduct the interview in New York was to accommodate one of the witnesses’ lawyers, who was injured.

It comes as a third witness, Alexander Nix of the data firm Cambridge Analytica, testified via videoconference before the House panel on Thursday, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Nix told the House panel that he did not discuss Russia with the Trump campaign, one of the sources said.

Democrats complain that the panel is moving at a pace that has prevented them from fully vetting the witnesses, chasing new leads or receiving documents far enough in advance to prepare adequately to question the witnesses.

“They’re just trying to wrap this up by checking the box,” one of the Democratic sources said.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Republicans view “shutting us down as a prerequisite to shutting (special counsel Robert) Mueller down.”

“And we see some very disturbing signs that that’s what they intend to do,” Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday. “We are scheduled to have witness interviews out of state at a time next week when we’ll be voting to keep the government running, when we’ll be voting potentially, on this tax bill for the wealthy, so we can’t leave to do these interviews, and nonetheless even though these witnesses are very important and have been on our witness list for months and months and they haven’t been willing to bring them in until now, they’re pulling these kind of tactics, which say to me they’re trying to bring this to an end.”

But Republicans argue that the investigation, which has taken much of the year, has been thorough, and that Democrats are simply on a fishing expedition to tie the Trump campaign to Russia.

In addition to Sater and Graff, the panel plans to interview two of its colleagues next week – GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, who has friendly ties with Russia, and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, which last year paid a law firm that retained Fusion GPS, the firm behind the Trump-Russia dossier.

Sater, a Russian-born former Trump business associate, has attracted the interest of congressional investigators for his role in pursuing a Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015.

Sater served as an intermediary for the project between Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian development firm. He wrote in an email to Cohen that the Trump Tower project could “possibly fix relations between the countries.”

Graff was Trump’s longtime gatekeeper as his assistant at the Trump Organization for more than two decades. She did not come with him to Washington when he was elected President, however.

CNN’s Sophie Tatum contributed to this report.