Nine developments to watch in the Russia and Ukraine scandals

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's testimony next week begins a frenetic stretch of investigations, document releases, subpoenas and witness interviews.

Last Updated:
June 2, 2020 - 3:08pm

The investigation of the Russia probe investigators is picking up steam as summer approaches, with multiple congressional committees ramping up subpoenas, witness interviews and hearings.

On the legal front, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's fate hangs in the balance at an appeals court, while Trump administration officials ponder declassifying additional explosive documents at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The summer extravaganza of accountability kicks off this coming week at the Senate Judiciary Committee, where former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is slated to testify about his involvement in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Carter Page and his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as Special Counsel.

Here are nine key developments to watch over the next three months:

1.) Will Rosenstein admit to failures and talk about the 25th Amendment fiasco?

The former Trump deputy attorney general issued a statement last week that signals he may acknowledge at Wednesday's hearing that the Russia investigation he once embraced and defended was significantly, if not fatally, flawed. 

"Even the best law enforcement officers make mistakes, and some engage in willful misconduct," Rosenstein said. “Independent law enforcement investigations, judicial review and congressional oversight are important checks on the discretion of agents and prosecutors.

"We can only hope to maintain public confidence if we correct mistakes, hold wrongdoers accountable and adopt policies to prevent problems from recurring," he added.

Here are the three key questions Chairman Lindsey Graham and other senators hope to get answered:

  • Did Rosenstein read the FISA warrant renewal he signed in summer 2017 against Page, review any evidence or ask the FBI any questions and does he now acknowledge it was so flawed it should never have been submitted?
  • Given what he now knows about flaws in the Steele dossier and FBI probe, would Rosenstein have appointed Mueller if given a do-over?
  • Did Rosenstein engage in a conversation with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in 2017 about wearing a wire on President Trump as part of a plot to remove him from office under the 25th Amendment?

2.) Will the ODNI declassify more documents, including former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' secret report to the CIA Inspector General highlighting flaws in the Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 elections? 

Multiple sources tell me it is possible new DNI John Ratcliffe may declassify the full ICA about Russian interference as well as Nunes' assessment of failed spy tradecraft in assembling the memo. If that happens, it would be an historic declassification of one of the government's most secret intelligence products and a congressional committee's criticisms of it.

The ICA concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking emails and buying Facebook ads with the intention of hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump. The first conclusion is widely acccepted, but the latter has come under increasing criticism as declassified evidence seems to conflict with that finding.

3.) What will the DC Circuit Court of Appeals do in the Flynn dismissal case?

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's reply as well as the Justice Department's motion are due Monday at the appeals court. Sullivan's unorthodox plan to hold a hearing and have an outside lawyer argue against DOJ's request to dismiss the Flynn charges is pending before the appeals judges. Will they sanction his approach, reverse it and send the case back to Sullivan or simply dismiss the charges against Flynn outright?

4.) Who else will Graham's committee interview or subpoena?

Sources say the committee is hoping to soon interview former FBI Assistant Director William Priestap, the bureau executive whose explosive handwritten notes raised a questions about whether the FBI was "playing games" and may have been trying to lure Flynn into lying so "we can prosecute him or get him fired."

But will Graham try to compel other major figures like fired FBI Director James Comey, McCabe, former CIA Director John Brennan, former DNI James Clapper or former National Security Adviser Susan Rice? What about the FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, whose text messages created a roadmap to problems in the Russia case? And will any figures decline to testify or take the 5th Amendment?

5.) Will any congressional committees zero in on former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's conduct in the Russia case?

Graham could subpoena documents from the National Archives collection of Obama White House records to try to determine why so many unmaskings went on and how Obama came to find out about intercepts of Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador. Here are some of the questions remaining to be answered:

  • How did Obama find out about the Flynn transcript, how did he access it, and did he give instructions to the FBI that prolonged the investigation of Flynn?
  • Were there additional contacts between Comey, the FBI, and Obama about the ongoing Flynn investigation beyond an already-known briefing on Jan. 5, 2017?
  • Did Obama and Comey have additional conversations about Flynn that involved the intercept transcripts, and did those conversations pertain to keeping the case against Flynn open longer than it should have been?
  • Why dd Biden unmask a conversations about Flynn shortly befire leaving office in January 2017?

6.) Will Attorney General William Barr and the special prosecutors he named, like U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, to investigate the Russia case investigators bring any criminal charges?

Durham's investigation began a full year ago, but so far has yielded no criminal charges or reports. If criminal charges are to be filed, they are widely expected to occur between June and August so as not to interfere with the fall election. There are numerous criminal referrals that have been made against figures, including an FBI lawyer accused of falsifying a document about Page before the FISA Court.

7.) Will the Democratic strategy firm Blue Star Strategies comply with a subpoena in the Senate investigation into Hunter Biden's Ukrainian business dealings?

Blue Star represented the Burisma Holdings natural gas firm in Ukraine that hired Hunter Biden as a board member. Blue Star tried to help the energy company settle corruption allegations in Kiev while Joe Biden was vice president and overseeing U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Blue Star had contacts with the Obama State Department in its quest to get Ukrainian officials to drop their criminal investigation of Burisma and to get the U.S. embassy in Kiev to stop viewing the gas firm as corrupt.

Blue Star's documents about its work for Burisma were recently subpoenaed by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis. An answer is expected soon.

8.) Who else might Johnson subpoena in the Ukraine probe?

The Wisconsin senator has several options for subpoenas, including Hunter Biden, current and former State officials like Marie Yovanovitch, George Kent, and Victoria Nuland and a Ukrainian government official named Andrii Telizchenko, who worked at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington during a critical period and later assisted Blue Star with its efforts on Burisma.

9.) Will Johnson's committee issue an interim report this summer on the evidence it has already uncovered about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden and Burisma?

Johnson's committee has already gathered thousands of pages of Obama-era documents from the National Archives and from key witnesses that could provide a valuable timeline of what happened in the Burisma scandal before the fall election, when Joe Biden is running as the expected Democratic nominee for president.

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