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House Dems: Clinton-Russia Meetings 'Sidetrack' from Heart of Russia Influence Investigation

Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, right, walks with Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak on Medvedev's arrival to attend the G8 Summit on May 18, 2012, at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – A group of House Democrats said the Kremlin spokesperson’s point that the Russian ambassador met with Clinton advisors during the presidential campaign does not negate the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, recently said Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak met with “people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed the former secretary of State, said he has not seen enough evidence of the GOP ticket and the Kremlin “conspiring” during the election cycle.

“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell reportedly said during an event last week.

“Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said none of these statements alter the chance that collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials did not take place.

“Look, no. Let me be flat out. I think Russia is looking for a way for them to get off the hook as well and I think it was the scariest breach, the extent to which we don’t know, of their hacking into the emails and what was demonstrated in the course of this campaign – that had documentation from intelligence office, etc.,” DeLauro said last Friday in response to a question from PJM on a conference call briefing for Sunshine Week on “Ethical and Transparency Issues of Trump Administration.”

“We may have two people at the moment – talking about this current president, talking about being wiretapped by a former president – to really distract the conversation about the depth of his conflicts of interest and how we have maybe someone who was speaking on behalf of his dear friend Mr. Putin to try to once more distract from what is happening and to probe more deeply the level of their intrusion into our democracy – our elections, yes, but in undermining our democracy. These are the directions we should be focused on and not get sidetracked,” she added.

At the beginning of March, DeLauro called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after it was revealed that he had met with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s influence campaign during the election.

“Attorney General Sessions must resign. As more revelations regarding the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians continue to come to light, the president and his administration have a responsibility to call for a special investigation and give the American people the full story,” she said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions has shown that he is both not impartial on the matter and that he is willing to lie under oath in order to cover up his actions. Recusing himself from the investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election is not enough, and he must step down immediately.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) argued that the investigation into Russia and Trump campaign should be patterned after the 9/11 Commission.

“I would say that your question really underscores the need for an independent, bipartisan commission put together along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. The American people embraced the 9/11 Commission, they had full confidence in it. We need something that is outside of the Congress to investigate everything, and I underscore that, so the facts can be established and then the facts will lead to truth and our entire Democratic caucus has signed onto that. We full support that,” she said.

“We know that both the House and the Senate intelligence committees have undertaken their own investigations but they are around very specific things and we all believe it should be much broader, and I think that’s why your question really sets up the case for an outside independent bipartisan commission that would have the full authority of the Congress to be able to subpoena, establish the facts and allow the facts to establish the truth,” she added.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) referred to Putin as a “thug” and argued that Trump seems to be unable to say a “bad word” about Putin.

“He tried to compare Russian behavior and American behavior in a way that was deeply offensive, and 17 intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin directed a sophisticated campaign to enhance the election of Donald Trump and undermine the election of Hillary Clinton – that’s not my conclusion, that the conclusion of 17 professional intelligence agencies,” he said.

Cicilline mentioned that several members of the Trump campaign had to leave the “Trump orbit” due to Russia ties. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort left the campaign in August; former foreign policy advisor Carter Page left the campaign in September.

“What’s at stake here is really the integrity of our democracy and it’s why our efforts to make information known and to get to the bottom of this really matters. This shouldn’t be a Democrat or Republican issue. Sadly, we’ve seen very little interest from our Republican colleagues to actually deeply engage in this search for truth,” Cicilline said.

“But this has consequences. Not for any one president but for the future strength of our democracy. Russia is doing this all over the world, all over Europe in particular, and they are going to do it again and they ought to see from the United States a strong response and unified response that we will not allow any foreign government to interfere with our democratic institutions.”