The United States Senate Intelligence Committee has promised to investigate links between President-elect Donald Trump’s team and the Russian government, warning it would use “subpoenas if necessary”.
The committee announced late on Friday it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and people associated with US political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election
“As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities we believe that it is critical to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States,” Senator Richard Burr and Senator Mark Warner said in a statement.
The inquiry will include holding hearings to examine Russian intelligence activity, interviews with senior officials of both the outgoing and incoming administrations and both classified and unclassified reports on the findings.
The committee said it was willing “issue subpoenas if necessary” in order to compel testimony.
“This issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important,” Senator Warner, who is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said.
“This requires a full, deep, and bipartisan examination.”
The announcement came as President-elect Trump said he would consider removing sanctions placed on Russia by outgoing President Barack Obama if Russia was “helpful”.
Questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia have deepened since the election, as he has dismissed US intelligence agencies’ assertions about Russia’s role in the hacking of Democratic groups.
In briefing Trump on their findings, intelligence officials also presented the president-elect with unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations about him, according to a separate US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.
Trump may do away with Russia sanctions
On Friday Mr Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal he would keep intact sanctions against Russia “at least for a period of time”.
In the hour-long interview Trump said he would be open to winding back sanctions against Russia.
“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” he said.
The sanctions targeted the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies that the US said were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other groups.
The US also kicked out 35 Russian diplomats who it said were actually intelligence operatives.
Mr Trump also told the Journal he wouldn’t commit to the “one China” policy until he sees progress from Beijing in its currency and trade practices.
Asked about his decision to accept a call from Taiwan’s president, ignoring the longstanding “One China” policy that does not recognise the island’s sovereignty, he responded: “Everything is under negotiation.”
China’s foreign ministry responded the following day by saying that its “One China” principle was the non-negotiable political basis for China-US relations, and urged “relevant parties” in the United States to recognise the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue.
Trump adviser in regular Russian contact
It was also revealed Mr Trump’s national security adviser and Russia’s ambassador to the US had been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking.
After initially denying that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke on December 29, a Trump official said late on Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.
It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office.
But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Mr Trump’s team discussed – or even helped shape – Russia’s response.
Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the US for the move, a decision Mr Trump quickly praised.
More broadly, Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow.
That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials’ assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the US election to benefit Trump.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump highlighted his warmer rapport with the Russian leader.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” he said.
Interestingly, though, a new poll shows Americans are more concerned than they were before the 2016 US presidential campaign began about the potential threat Russia poses to the country.
The January 9-12 survey found that 82 per cent of American adults, including 84 per cent of Democrats and 82 per cent of Republicans, described Russia as a general “threat” to the United States.
That figure is up from 76 per cent in March 2015 when the same questions were asked in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.
– with AAP