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Manchin: Russia/Trump investigations no ‘witch hunt’

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks Friday with Gazette-Mail editors about the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the November presidential election.

Ten days after the ouster of FBI Director James Comey, Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are no “witch hunt,” despite President Donald Trump’s claim.

Manchin, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said whether it be through the recent appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to run a special counsel investigation or probes in the U.S. House and Senate, the truth will come out.

“The Russian investigation is extremely serious, it is not a witch hunt. Everyone that I know involved in this in any committee is not talking about any witch hunt whatsoever,” he said. “We just want to get the facts. We don’t want Russia casting doubts about our government, our democracy, our election process. We don’t want them — we don’t need them involved.”

Trump’s decision to fire Comey on May 9 renewed calls for the start of an independent investigation.

Between February and this week, national news outlets have reported on communications between administration members and Russian officials.

As of Friday, the Justice Department is leading the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, while intelligence committees in the House and Senate are looking into alleged Russian intervention in the election, and the Senate Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees are looking into the conduct of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the circumstances of Comey’s firing, according to a list curated by Vox.

Internal documents are suggesting Trump fired Comey as a means of alleviating pressure on his administration regarding the Russia investigation. A memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released publicly the day of the firing states that the decision was made because of Comey’s mishandling of protocol regarding the investigation of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while conducting State Department business.

However, Manchin said if this were the case, the window has passed for this as a viable rationale for the firing.

“To let this thing go clear from January, for four months, and then all of a sudden, knowing that this Russian investigation is very serious, and making the decision at this time was just wrong,” he said. “The timing was just wrong. But he’s the president, that’s ‘will-and-pleasure,’ he makes those decisions, and I respect that. But now, they have to answer for that.”

At this point, Manchin said, a key role of investigators will be to figure out if Trump’s decision to fire Comey was done in the best interest of the country or as a means to stifle a troubling investigation and protect himself.

As the investigation has progressed, the public has remained clued in because of a heavy focus on the matter by The New York Times and The Washington Post, often relying on anonymous sources.

For instance, The Post published a report Monday, which relied on anonymous sources, claiming that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.

Although Manchin said the information Trump shared is “pretty potent,” the president and his executive branch ultimately have the authority to declassify material as they please.

On Tuesday, The Times reported that Trump asked Comey if he could drop the investigation regarding Flynn and his allegedly improper communications with Russian officials, also relying on anonymous sources.

In reference to these leaks, Manchin said the president has acted as his own worst enemy and needs to stop reacting to every blow he’s hit with and tamp down his public responses, which will curb the steady trickle of leaks.

“It starts at the top, and I would ask the president to just tone down, maybe not tweet for a while, and go out and get to learn your intelligence community,” he said.

Manchin called leaks “dangerous” and “serious,” as a general concept, but he said the leaks appearing in the papers have been more political shots than any threat to national security.

“I haven’t seen a leak that was classified information that would make us susceptible or vulnerable to an attack or something along those lines,” he said. “It’s been basically political or personal, if you evaluate it.”

Despite the special investigation, Manchin said, the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to put the facts together, as well.

“Whatever they do doesn’t change our job,” he said. “The Senate Intel does its job.”

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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