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Sen. Coons: Intel Panel's Russia Probe 'Significant Development'

Image: Sen. Coons: Intel Panel's Russia Probe 'Significant Development'

Sen. Chris Coons (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 13 Jan 2017 08:38 PM

The Senate Intelligence Committee's decision Friday to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election is "a significant development" in light of reports that President-elect Donald Trump's national security adviser talked with Moscow officials last month.

"It does strain credibility that Gen. Mike Flynn needed to place a call to Russia's ambassador to the United Nations more than three weeks before President-elect Trump's inauguration," the Delaware Democrat told Erin Burnett on CNN.

"After Jan. 20th, once Trump becomes president, General Flynn is free to have any contacts he chooses with foreign governments and their ambassadors.

"Seems very suspicious that three weeks in advance he needed to have a call in order to schedule a call that wouldn't happen for weeks hence."

Flynn is Trump's national security adviser. He talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times in telephone calls on Dec. 29, when President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Moscow in response to hacking activities.

Though it was not clear whether the sanctions were discussed, Flynn may have violated the Logan Act, an 18th century law that bars unauthorized citizens from brokering deals with foreign governments involved in disputes with the United States.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and its vice chairman, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, said that the panel would "follow the intelligence where it leads" in announcing the panel's investigation.

They said the committee would interview senior officials from both the Obama White House and the incoming Trump administration.

Subpoenas would be issued "if necessary to compel testimony," the senators said.

"We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right," they said.

A declassified intelligence report released last week said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The revelations have roiled Washington.

"The Logan Act has been rarely invoked in our history," Coons told Burnett, "but it lays down a clear line that we only have one president at a time.

"American leaders and citizens shouldn't be engaging in their own foreign policy," he added. "It would be a serious matter.

"We would be compelled to investigate further."

Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Burnett that the Flynn developments also had a bearing on the confirmation of retired Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.

Tillerson also has close ties to Putin and Russia.

In his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the foreign relations panel, Tillerson gave "important and distinct answers" to his questions, but "didn't give clear or strong answers" to questions from other committee members.

"I think his confirmation at this point is in some doubt."

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The Senate Intelligence Committee's decision Friday to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election is "a significant development" in light of reports that President-elect Donald Trump's national security adviser talked with Moscow officials last month.
chris coons, intel, panel, russia, probe
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2017-38-13
Friday, 13 Jan 2017 08:38 PM
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