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Chaffetz seeks probe of leakers and Flynn's Russian speech

Published February 16, 2017 10:52 pm

Marching orders? • Democratic member of the oversight panel says Utahn Republican seems to be doing bidding of the White House.
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Washington • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is launching a two-prong response to the White House's latest scandal: going after the resigned official and the leakers who brought him down.

Chaffetz on Wednesday asked the Justice Department's inspector general to dig into the leaks by intelligence officials about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with a Russian ambassador, noting those leaks could have "grave effects on national security."

On Thursday morning, Chaffetz, along with the committee's top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, also sent a letter to the speaker's bureau that had booked Flynn's appearance at a gala in Moscow for RT, a Kremlin-backed news outlet, asking for documents related to his attendance that could violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution's Emoluments Clause ­— which has been raised as an issue with President Donald Trump's business dealings — forbids a public official from receiving payment from foreign governments, and Chaffetz says that applies to retired military generals. Flynn is a retired Army lieutenant general.

Flynn attended a gala celebrating RT's 10th anniversary and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chaffetz's letter to Leading Authorities Inc. CEO Mark French seeks Flynn's contract with the speaker's bureau and documents related to that RT speech and any others with ties to the Russian government as well as a list of all speeches and payments.

The Defense Department told the Oversight Committee that it has no records of requests to approve such a payment from a foreign entity, the committee said.

Trump also said Thursday that he had called the Justice Department asking for a probe into the intelligence leaks after blaming them on holdovers from President Barack Obama's administration. He also slammed the news media for covering the story that led to Flynn's ouster.

"The press should be ashamed of themselves," Trump said at a news conference. "More importantly, the people who gave out this information should be ashamed of themselves."

Chaffetz's letter, co-signed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asks the Justice Department's inspector general to immediately look into possible mishandling of classified information.

"We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here," Chaffetz and Goodlatte wrote.

Democrats have urged Chaffetz to use his authority as Oversight chairman to open more investigations, specifically into what ties Trump's campaign has to Russia and what conversations occurred during the election.

U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia had attempted to sway the election in Trump's favor, a point that Trump's team has disputed.

Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, responded to Chaffetz's letter seeking a probe of intelligence leaks by saying that the Utah Republican "appears to be taking his marching orders" directly from Trump by focusing on the leaks and not on Flynn's lies to Vice President Mike Pence and the American people.

"Congress should be doing independent oversight of the executive branch and protecting whistleblowers, not running interference while the White House conceals their abuses and misleads the American people for weeks," Cummings said. "Chairman Chaffetz said he didn't want to go on 'fishing expeditions,' but that's exactly what he's doing here."







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