Amash backs bill for independent Russia probe

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Grand Rapids-area Rep. Justin Amash has become the second Republican to co-sponsor legislation in Congress calling for a nonpartisan, independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“This investigation must be nonpartisan,” Amash tweeted on Thursday afternoon, saying he was happy to join fellow Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina in supporting the legislation.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act was first introduced in December by Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland and reintroduced in the House and Senate in January as the new session of Congress got underway.

“Thanks to @JustinAmash for being 2nd GOP cosponsor of #ProtectOurDemocracy Act, for indep/bipartisan commission to probe #RussianHacking,” Swalwell tweeted.

Swalwell’s bill would create a 12-member, bipartisan commission with the authority to interview witnesses, issue subpoenas and hear public testimony on attempts by the Russian government or others to use electronic means to influence, interfere with or undermine trust in U.S. elections. The commission would examine issue a final report with recommendations to Congress and the president within 18 months of enactment.

Amash said his staff was studying legislation to create an independent probe on Russia, following President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. Amash tweeted that part of Trump’s letter firing Comey was “bizarre.”

The House bill has at least 198 co-sponsors, including Michigan’s five Democrats.

Many Democrats this week renewed their calls for an independent investigation, raising concerns over Comey’s removal at a time when he was overseeing the FBI investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with Russian officials to intervene in last year’s presidential election.

The legislation’s chances of passing the Republican-controlled Congress remain low.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky both oppose an independent Russia investigation. McConnell on Wednesday accused Democrats of having partisan motives and said the Senate Intelligence Committee should be permitted to do its work.

“Today, we will no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community to develop the countermeasures and war-fighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

The creation of an independent panel would not only require congressional approval and funding but the signature of Trump himself.

In an interview with NBC, Trump on Thursday repeated his claim in his letter to Comey that the FBI director had told him on three occasions that Trump himself was not under investigation.

Explaining his reasons for firing Comey, Trump told NBC that Comey was a “showboat” and “grand stander.” He also said the FBI “has been in turmoil” since last year, presumably referring to the agency’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah on Wednesday asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general to look into why Comey was fired as part of an ongoing investigation of how the FBI handled the Clinton case.

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