“We must determine if these requests were legitimate,” Graham said, referring to requests by top Obama administration officials to “unmask” Flynn’s name. The requests are common, including during the Trump administration, which has made thousands of “unmasking” requests.
Democratic front-runner Joe Biden’s name was revealed Wednesday on a list of Obama-era officials who reportedly “unmasked” Flynn’s identity in redacted intelligence documents related to Mueller’s investigation.
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The declassified document released by acting director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell also names former FBI Director James Comey and intelligence chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper, and former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough.
In an interview with Good Morning America Tuesday, Biden denied any connection to the case.
“I know nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn,” Biden said, but later in the interview admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he had been briefed on the Flynn investigation.
“I thought you asked me whether or not I had anything to do with him being prosecuted,” Biden explained. “I’m sorry. ... I was aware that there was — that they asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about it, and I don’t think anything else.”
Graham also said the committee will look into potential abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, during a probe of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The FBI identified Page during the early days of its investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign and secretly targeted his electronic communications.
A federal watchdog later concluded that the FBI made significant errors and omissions in applications it made to a U.S. foreign intelligence court for the authorization to eavesdrop on Page. Those mistakes prompted internal changes within the FBI and spurred a congressional debate over whether the bureau’s surveillance tools should be reined in.
“My goal is to find out why and how the system got so off the rails,” Graham said.
The Judiciary Committee also will look at whether Robert Mueller should have been appointed as special counsel in the Russia probe. The decision to appoint Muller was made in 2017 by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
“Was there legitimate reason to conclude the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians?” Graham asked.
Graham’s announcement comes as Trump and his GOP allies begin a broad election-year attack on the foundation of the Russia investigation, including declassifying intelligence information to try to place senior Obama administration officials under scrutiny for routine actions.
The effort has been aided by the Justice Department decision to dismiss the Flynn prosecution, essentially rewriting the narrative of the case in a way that former federal law enforcement officials say downplays the legitimate national security concerns they believe Flynn’s actions raised.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition period.
Trump and his Republican allies are pushing to reframe the Russia investigation as a “deep state” plot to sabotage his administration, setting the stage for a fresh onslaught of attacks on past and present Democratic officials and law enforcement leaders.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer railed against Republicans' renewed focus on Flynn and the Russia investigation.
“We’re in the middle of a public health and economic crisis, and Senate Republicans are diving head-first into the muck, pursuing diversionary, partisan conspiracy theories to prop up President Trump when President Trump should be focusing on solving this crisis,” Schumer said.
Hearings by the Judiciary Committee will start in early June, Graham said.
Trump tweeted Thursday that Graham should call Obama to testify. “Do it @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it,” Trump tweeted. “No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more talk!”
Both Trump and Obama are welcome to come before the committee “and share their concerns about each other,” Graham said. ”If nothing else it would make for great television. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country.”
— ArLuther Lee contributed to this report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.