01:08 - Source: CNN
Schiff slams GOP shutdown of Russia probe
CNN  — 

One day after House Republicans announced they were ending their Russia investigation with a 150-page report concluding there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the committee’s top Democrat responded with a road map for continuing to investigate whether there was collusion with Russia.

Sprinkled throughout the 21-page document from Rep. Adam Schiff of California were several allegations of potential involvement between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russia, which remain unproven publicly, as well as a smattering of new names that Democrats want to speak to in connection to the probe.

Schiff’s “status report” was the House Democrats’ first step in a concerted effort to show that Republicans ended their probe prematurely and to lay the groundwork for potentially reopening the House’s investigation next year should Democrats win back the House.

Lawmakers and congressional officials said the document was intended to show the public — and other investigators — leads in the Russia investigation that the committee had discovered but not fully tracked down.

“We will be submitting to the public a detailed account of what we have learned to date, and the work that has to be done, if not by us, then by others,” Schiff had said Tuesday.

Some of the information included comes from the committee’s documents and interviews, while other facts and names stem from media reports that the committee did not investigate, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The Democratic report, for instance, contends that the committee has learned that Trump’s business was “actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank” during the 2016 campaign season.

Two sources say that pertains to efforts by the Trump Organization to secure financing for the Trump Tower Moscow project that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was involved with, though it’s unclear to the panel how serious the Trump Organization was pursuing that project, one source said.

Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump business associate who worked as an intermediary on the Trump Tower project, said he lined up financing from VTB Bank, which is partially owned by the Kremlin and is under US sanctions, according to a report in The New York Times. In a statement provided to CNN in September 2017, the bank denied playing any role in the Trump project, and called those claims “completely false.”

Schiff’s document also claims that the committee has “a good faith reason to believe” that the White House memorialized conversations between Trump and former FBI Director James Comey before he was fired.

Trump tweeted about the possibility of “tapes” back in May 2017 shortly after Comey was fired, although the President subsequently tweeted he did not make or possess such recordings.

But while the Democratic document notes there were reports of a memo referencing Comey’s communications with Trump composed by White House aide Stephen Miller, it’s not clear that the committee possesses that document or has any other evidence proving that claim.

“We believe the evidence is there and need the opportunity to pursue it, and it’s one element of many other bodies of evidence out there that would help us understand exactly what took place,” Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

To Republicans, Schiff’s status report is a sign that he will try to keep the Russia investigation in the news into the midterm campaign season. The committee has spent more than a year investigating the matter.

“It’s basically just a lot of names, rumors, insinuations,” said Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican. “We were expecting more than this.”

Republicans have their own 150-page draft report, although they are continuing to revise that document ahead of a planned vote next week to send the final report for declassification.

A senior committee official said Democrats are preparing a document for next week to counter the Republican conclusions — Republicans say they found no evidence of collusion and break with the intelligence community over the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin helped Trump get elected — but are still planning to write a longer report that won’t be ready for several months.

Schiff’s status report lists 30 witnesses the Democrats want to call, along with entities they would subpoena or seek documents from.

The potential witness list includes some senior officials from the Trump administration such as former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former press secretary Sean Spicer and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. But it also includes more obscure names who haven’t figured prominently in the Russia investigation.

One of those names is Roman Beniaminov. The memo states that the committee “has reason to believe” that Beniaminov — who reportedly has New Jersey business ties to Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star who helped organize the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer — had advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting. But the memo does not elaborate or provide evidence.

Beniaminov could not be reached by CNN for comment.

Schiff also lists several individuals with ties to the National Rifle Association whom they would like to speak to, including Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner who has done work for the NRA and previously served as an NRA board member.

There have been various reports over the past year about outreach conducted on behalf of Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Putin, to connect to Trump’s team, including through the NRA. McClatchy reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump.

Schiff’s report states that Mitchell “may be able to clarify for the committee any Russian-related approaches to and interaction with the organization and persons of interest to the Committee during the 2016 election.”

Mitchell told CNN the notion she or the NRA was involved with any kind of election collusion was laughable.

“If these idiot Democrats want to talk to me, I will be happy to tell them they are wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayers’ money in their bizarre attempts to somehow sweep the NRA into their fantasy investigation,” Mitchell said. “This only further demonstrates that the Democrats are completely grasping at straws to try to keep this going, when it is clear and has always been clear, that their entire narrative is false and completely fabricated.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Rep. Mike Quigley’s party affiliation. He’s a Democrat.