Feinstein: Judiciary committee must ‘step up and carry its weight’

Dems call for delay of Kavanaugh vote after accuser comes forward
Brian Yaklyvich/CNN
California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein

The top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee on Sunday repeated her call for the panel to investigate whether the Trump administration sought to obstruct justice in events surrounding the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, saying the committee, with its staff of lawyers, is the appropriate venue for such an inquiry.

“We need the judiciary committee to step up and carry its weight,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said.

The California Democrat added on CNN’s “State of the Union” that she wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify before the committee, referring to Sessions’ announcement Saturday that he plans to appear before the Senate intelligence panel instead of House and Senate subcommittees that oversee the Justice Department’s budget given the intent of lawmakers to question him about the Russia investigation.

Asked about Sessions’ plans, Feinstein said she is unsure whether he would actually appear before the intelligence panel on Tuesday, as he said he would, or if the testimony would be public if it does occur.

“Don’t know whether it will happen,” Feinstein said. “Don’t know whether it’s going to be public.”

A Justice Department official told CNN on Sunday that any testimony from Sessions on Tuesday would likely be in a closed hearing, but the intelligence panel still needs to make a final determination. The offices of panel Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and ranking member Mark Warner of Virginia have not responded to news of Sessions’ offer to testify Tuesday.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the committee, sent Burr and Warner a letter Sunday urging them to hold an open hearing.

The questions swirling around the Russia investigation and the Trump campaign’s and White House’s actions “are of the utmost public interest,” he wrote. “I believe we owe the American people transparency.”

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, sent a letter Friday to that panel’s chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, asking him to focus the committee on any potential obstruction of justice regarding the executive branch investigation into contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign aides and Russian officials and the events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the Russia probe.

She said Sunday that the judiciary panel was more appropriately suited to get involved “on the technical, legal aspects of obstruction of justice,” and that those matters shouldn’t be lost amid the intelligence committee’s Russia probe.

“I think the intelligence committee is doing good work and should continue,” Feinstein said. “But I also know that there’s another part of this, and that part should not be given short shrift, and it has to do with the Department of Justice.”

Asked by anchor Brianna Keilar about Comey’s testimony before the intelligence panel Thursday, in which he said he was concerned about then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s treatment of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of email as secretary of state, Feinstein expressed support for Comey’s view.

In his testimony, Comey said he was uncomfortable when Lynch asked him to refer to the investigation as a “matter” instead of an investigation and cited her now-infamous tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton as a red flag. Feinstein said Comey’s statements about Lynch were also a matter for the judiciary committee to look at.

“I would have a queasy feeling too,” Feinstein said. “I think we need to know more about that, and there’s only one way to know about it, and that’s to have the judiciary committee take a look at that.”