The Senate committee chairman who’s leading the probe into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation is asking for broad authorization to issue subpoenas to a number of top former Obama administration officials, including former FBI Director James Comey.
The list of 35 officials who could be subpoenaed for records and testimony includes many top national security and law enforcement officials from the Obama administration. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who’s the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Thursday that his committee will meet on June 4 to vote on a motion authorizing him to issue subpoenas “with the hope that subpoenas won’t be necessary.”
Johnson is asking to look into high-ranking officials including Comey, former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and fired former FBI agent Peter Strzok. Johnson is also interested in officials from the State Department, as well as from the General Services Administration.
Johnson’s request comes after he and other Senate Republicans released a list earlier this month of Obama administration officials who had sought to “unmask” the names of Americans in intelligence reports in the weeks before President Donald Trump took office, the latest attempt to discredit the FBI’s Russia investigation and accuse the previous administration of wrongdoing over the prosecution of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
If the committee approves the authorization next week, Johnson will be authorized to issue subpoenas to all of the officials for the committee’s investigation.
“In some cases, we are already working with the agencies and individuals identified to obtain the information we need to do our work, and inclusion on the list should in no way be interpreted to suggest they have been noncompliant,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am asking for this authority to ensure the committee has the ability to quickly and efficiently seek compulsory process should it become necessary.”
The last time Comey was subpoenaed by a Republican-led chamber of Congress, he challenged it in court, until he negotiated to testify voluntarily. In seeking to pause or kill the subpoena, Comey used the case to air his accusation that members of the then-Republican-led House and Senate selectively leaked details for their own benefit when they called witnesses to testify in private.
Since then, former Trump administration officials – including White House counsel Don McGahn and deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman – have successfully used the courts to slow down congressional committees who sought their testimony, and Trump’s Justice Department has argued against the power of congressional subpoenas to several courts, including the Supreme Court.
It’s possible that former Obama administration officials could adopt similar tactics, turning the tables on Republicans by trying to protect executive decision-making from congressional investigations and even judicial review.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.