WASHINGTON — Monday marked a major turning point in Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates surrendering to authorities and facing a 12-count indictment.
But on Capitol Hill, the fallout was just beginning to be felt with Republican and Democratic members grappling to understand what impact the recent news would have on their own congressional investigations and the week ahead as the Republicans seek to unveil their tax plan this week.
“The special counsel has found a reason on criminal violations to indict two individuals and I will leave that up to the special counsel to make that determination,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who is leading his own Senate investigation into any connections Russia might have had to the Trump campaign.
“It doesn’t change anything with our investigation. Two individuals that we’ve gotten documents from. We have, we had interest in them, but clearly the criminal charges put them in the Special Counsel’s purview.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he would be briefed on the charges Monday afternoon and that when it came to Mueller’s job, he thought President Donald Trump should let the investigation unfold.
“The president should let the special counsel do his job,” Grassley said.
Members were also reacting to news that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, had pleaded guilty for giving false information to the FBI about his connections to foreign officials with ties to the Russian government.
When asked what his reaction was to the guilty plea, Grassley said “It’s news. So I guess there is not much to say.”
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said “Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians with information they had lots of, so-called ‘dirt,’ emails on Hillary Clinton.”
Asked if it fed the collusion narrative, Warner said there were still “more questions to be answered.”
“We continue to see evidence that Russians were reaching out to Trump officials in a variety of ways, offering discrediting information on Hillary Clinton that included their emails,” Warner said.
Meanwhile, Democrats applauded Mueller’s investigation, arguing the indictments showed Congress needed to continue its own investigations.
“Today’s charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, two integral members of President Trump’s campaign, show that the special counsel is doing his job and the process is working. I’ll continue to support Bob Mueller as he follows the facts — his independence must remain sacrosanct,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said in a statement.
“I’m also more convinced than ever that both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee must continue their oversight investigations. Congress must get to the bottom of possible obstruction of justice and collusion as well as Russia’s interference with our democratic institutions.”
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that “Even with an accelerating Special Counsel investigation inside the Justice Department, and investigations inside the Republican Congress, we still need an outside, fully independent investigation to expose Russia’s meddling in our election and the involvement of Trump officials.”