House Intel panel subpoenas former Trump aides Gates, Flynn

Move escalates battle between the White House and House Democrats, who are investigating the president.

    Michael Reynolds [EPA-EFE]
    Michael Reynolds [EPA-EFE]

    Washington, DC - The United States House Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas to former Trump aides Rick Gates and Michael Flynn for documents and testimony, the panel said in a statement on Thursday.

    The Intelligence Committee is continuing to investigate counterintelligence issues arising from the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of the Justice Department's 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

    "Both Michael Flynn and Rick Gates were critical witnesses for Special Counsel Mueller's investigation, but so far have refused to cooperate fully with Congress," Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement announcing the subpoenas.

    "That's simply unacceptable. The American people, and the Congress, deserve to hear directly from these two critical witnesses," Schiff said, demanding that Gates and Flynn provide subpoenaed documents by June 26 and testify by July 10. 

    The Intelligence Committee is investigating whether Trump's business relationships, including the pursuit of a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, have compromised the US president, Schiff has said. 

    Gates was the business partner of Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager who was convicted of fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent for his pro-Russian political work in Ukraine. Manafort is serving seven-and-half-year federal prison sentence in Pennsylvania. He is expected to face additional fraud charges in New York state. 

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    Gates was Trump's deputy campaign manager and cooperated with Mueller's probe but has declined to appear before the Intelligence Committee. Gates pleaded guilty in February 2018 to federal charges and has been cooperating with prosecutors.

    A retired US army general, Flynn was national security adviser to then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential election. He served as a go-between for the incoming Trump team with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the transition and served briefly as National Security Adviser in early 2017.

    Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2015 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak and has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation pending sentencing.

    'Everyone should be appalled'

    Trump in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday that, hypothetically, he may accept damaging information on his 2020 presidential opponent from a foreign government if it were offered and may not alert the FBI. 

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    When asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos if his campaign would accept information from a foreign government or hand it over to the FBI, Trump said, "I think maybe you do both."

    "I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," Trump said, adding that he didn't believe it was interference if a foreign government provided damaging information on an opponent.

    "It's not interference, they have information - I think I'd take it," he said. " If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI - if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, 'oh let's call the FBI.' The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."

    Democrats said the commentary showed Trump's lack of awareness of campaign laws that prohibit such contributions.

    "Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said last night. But he has a habit of making appalling statements. This one is so totally unethical that he doesn't even realise it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her weekly press conference. 

    House Democrats have launched several congressional investigations into the president, his administration and his businesses. The president, who has vowed to fight "all the subpoenas", has stonewalled the probes by either asserting executive privilege over certain documents or communications or directing aides and former aide to ignore subpoenas or requests for testimony and evidence.

    The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to authorise its lawyers to seek judicial orders in federal court enforcing earlier subpoenas issued to Attorney General William Barr and former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

    The House Judiciary and Oversight committees have voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to cooperate with their inquiries.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News