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Republicans join renewed calls for probe after Flynn resigns

In this image made from a video taken on Dec. 10, 2015 and made available on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, US President Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow. Flynn, who resigned following reports that he misled White House officials about his contacts with Russia, was seen attending the 10th anniversary of the Russian television network RT in 2015 where Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech. A US official has told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia after US intelligence reported that Russia had interfered with the US elections.

RUPTLY VIA AP

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — Top Senate Republicans on Tuesday joined a renewed call by Democrats on Capitol Hill for a full investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia following the resignation of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Flynn’s departure added to growing frustration over the slow pace of the chamber’s response to Russia’s interference in the presidential election and he has not ruled out calling for a probe by a specially appointed Senate select committee or a commission.

“I think there’s probably a desire for this to happen in a quickened pace,” Corker said.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican majority whip from Texas, said Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials before the inauguration should be part of the upcoming investigations by the chamber’s sitting committees. Cornyn and other Republicans stopped short of supporting the creation of a special panel to investigate despite a chorus of calls from Democrats.

“We have standing committees in the Senate that have all the appropriate clearances that can do the investigations,” Cornyn said.

After days of speculation, Flynn stepped down as national security adviser to President Donald Trump over reports that he discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December and denied the discussions to Vice President Mike Pence.

The Trump administration has faced tough questions and criticism over its relations with Russia since the U.S. intelligence community determined Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered hacking and propaganda to support Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump has also pressed for a thaw in relations with Moscow.

Flynn’s resignation Monday night highlighted the concerns, Corker said.

“I do think that there needs to be a fulsome investigation on all angles relative to the nefarious activities with Russia beginning in March but even going back before that time,” he said.

Corker’s Democratic counterpart on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and other Democrats have called for a bipartisan commission created specifically to look at Russia’s activities. The proposed commission would be tasked with issuing an investigative report within 18 months.

But Senate Republican leadership has dismissed the idea, saying investigations can be handled by existing panels including the Intelligence Committee.

However, Corker said Tuesday he “definitely” wants to discuss the possibility of a commission with other members, though he was uncertain whether it would be the best way to handle a probe.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has often broke with the Trump administration on Russia and has supported an independent commission investigation.

On Tuesday, McCain said Flynn’s resignation raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Russia but he did not call for a specific Senate investigation of the Army general.

“It’s too early yet to draw conclusions except that there are serious questions that need to be answered … including our entire relationship with Russia,” McCain said.

Republicans have promised an investigation into the Russian interference in the election, which included the computer hacking of the Democratic Party and a top staff member of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate. Thousands of hacked emails were released by the Wikileaks website in the run-up to the November vote.

Flynn’s resignation re-energized Democrats who are suspicious of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and have been calling for a more robust investigation.

“It is time for a select bipartisan committee to investigate Russian involvement with this administration and the election,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “It’s time for our Republican colleagues to look themselves in the mirror and really do a gut check.”

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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