House committee issues subpoenas; Comey OK’d to testify
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House intelligence committee said Wednesday it is issuing subpoenas for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as their businesses, as part of its investigation into Russian activities during last year’s election.
In addition to those four subpoenas, the committee has issued three others — to the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA — for information about requests that government officials made to “unmask” the identities of U.S. individuals named in classified intelligence reports, according to a congressional aide.
The subpoenas were announced as the special counsel overseeing the government’s investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia has approved former FBI Director James Comey to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, according to a Comey associate.
At a Wednesday briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said inquiries about the Russia investigation must be directed to Marc Kasowitz, another of Trump’s personal attorneys. It marked the first time the White House had officially acknowledged that outside counsel had been retained. Calls and emails to Kasowitz’s New York firm were not immediately returned Wednesday.
The Comey associate, who wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the testimony and spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss the content of Comey’s planned testimony. The associate did say that Robert Mueller, whom the Justice Department appointed earlier this month to lead the government’s inquiry, is allowing Comey to make certain statements.
Lawmakers are likely to ask Comey about his interactions with Trump as the bureau pursued its investigation into his campaign’s contacts.
Associates have said Comey wrote memos describing certain interactions with Trump that gave him pause in the months after the election, including details of a dinner in which he claimed the president asked him to pledge his loyalty, and a request to shut down the investigation of Flynn.
A spokesman for Mueller, a former FBI director, declined to comment. Mueller’s separate probe could conceivably look at the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing.
Congress is currently out of session. It resumes next Tuesday. No date for Comey’s testimony has been set.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Comey planned to testify before the Senate committee after Memorial Day, but the approval from Mueller to do so could indicate that date is fast approaching.
A spokeswoman for the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the committee welcomes Comey’s testimony, but declined to comment further.
The House panel pursuing its own investigation of the Trump campaign and possible Russia ties has also sought information from Comey, asking the FBI to turn over documents related to his interactions with both the White House and the Justice Department.
Subpoenas were approved Wednesday for Flynn and his company, Flynn Intel Group, and Cohen, and his firm, Michael D. Cohen & Associates.
Cohen, who had refused an earlier request for information, saying it was “not capable of being answered,” told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “If subpoenaed, I will work with my lawyers to cooperate with the various investigations.”
The subpoenas sent to government agencies were related to Trump’s complaints that Obama administration officials had asked, for political reasons, to be told the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports. Officials only “unmask” the identities of Americans for certain reasons — for example, if the name of a person is needed to understand the intelligence being provided.
Another senior committee aide said any subpoenas related to the unmasking issue would have been sent by committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who recused himself from the Russia investigation after being criticized for being too close to the White House. The committee aide, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the action would have been taken without agreement from the Democratic minority on the committee.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia ahead of the presidential election. Early Wednesday morning, the president tweeted “Witch Hunt!” in reference to testimony by Comey and former CIA director John Brennan before Congress on the topic.
Also Wednesday, a Justice Department official confirmed that Mueller had named a top Justice Department official to his team. Andrew Weissmann had been head of the criminal division’s fraud section since 2015.
The longtime Justice official previously served as FBI general counsel under Mueller. He began his career with Justice in 1991 at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. He later joined and ran the Enron Task Force.
The department official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly announce the appointment.
Pearson reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Sadie Gurman in Washington contributed to this report.