Senate judiciary panel digs into Russian election interference

WASHINGTON — The Senate judiciary committee will dig into questions of Russian interference in the US election Wednesday in a hearing notable as much for the big-name witnesses skipping the meeting as those speaking up in public.

Senate judiciary committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat, had originally invited Donald Trump Jr., former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Glenn Simpson, a former journalist whose research firm helped put together the “Steele Dossier” on President Donald Trump, to testify Wednesday.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations, including a subpoena against Manafort and Simpson, spurred the three key players in the Russia story to testify in private before the committee — albeit not Wednesday.

The panel will still hear from the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who is overseeing a review of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and has been asked to look into Trump’s firing of James Comey. Also testifying Wednesday will be businessman Bill Browder, whose former lawyer sits at the center of the June 2016 meeting between Trump Jr., Manafort, Jared Kushner, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others.

Knitting these many strings together on the surface is the hearing’s title, “Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence US Elections.” But the stronger thread has been an aggressive push by Grassley and Feinstein to get answers to a slew of questions that have sprung up publicly as the many Russia probes have unfolded.

Behind the scenes, a sort of witness tug of war has developed between the Senate judiciary committee and the Senate intelligence committee, as well as the House committees running their own investigations. Caught in the middle, at one point, was Manafort, who faced a subpoena from the Senate judiciary committee after agreeing to talk to the Senate intelligence committee, but not immediately concurring to a judiciary interview.

Grassley and Feinstein ultimately succeeded in winning a private interview with Manafort — as well as access to his documents.

“Faced with issuance of a subpoena, we are happy that Mr. Manafort has started producing documents to the committee and we have agreed to continue negotiating over a transcribed interview,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement Tuesday evening. “It’s important that he and other witnesses continue to work with this committee as it fulfills its oversight responsibility.”