While newly-appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller gets to work investigating Russian meddling in last year's U.S. presidential election and any coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign, the Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing a probe of its own.
President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is squarely in the committee's sights. Trump fired Flynn in February amid reports that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
On Tuesday, the Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for Flynn's business dealings with Russia and Turkey. Flynn rejected a previous subpoena for his personal records, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
In an exclusive interview, VOA's Michael Bowman spoke with a long-serving Intelligence Committee member, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, about the effort to acquire information from Flynn and the status of the investigation as a whole.
VOA: Senator, there have been various subpoenas issued to General Flynn. How does the latest subpoena differ from the previous one, and will it be harder for Flynn to dodge legally?
Collins: The new subpoena was issued for General Flynn's business records. It is dubious that a Fifth Amendment claim can be attached to a request for business records, and that is one reason we are pursuing that route.
VOA: Business records could reflect some sort of malfeasance, but would they get to the central question of Russian meddling, necessarily?
Collins: Well, that's exactly what we want to find out. The business records may indicate payments from the Russian government or affiliated entities. They may indicate meetings that were held. We just don't know. That's why we want to examine them. But you're correct that it is another attempt to get the information we need, now that General Flynn has chosen to invoke his Fifth Amendment protections.
We're still uncertain whether the Fifth Amendment [protecting Americans from self-incrimination] will apply to the previous records [subpoenaed earlier this month], the personal records that we have requested. So we are going to be pursuing this on two tracks. One, we're exploring the legal implications of his claim of Fifth Amendment privilege, and we are also issuing the second subpoena for his business records.
VOA: Is it too early to be talking about [Flynn being held in] contempt of Congress?
Collins: Yes, it is too early because we don't know what his response to the second subpoena would be. But that certainly could be a possibility. But in this area, we are going to have to work closely with the special counsel to make sure that our investigation doesn't compromise the criminal investigation that he [Mueller] has underway. We have two different purposes. Ours is to look at the broader counterintelligence aspects. The special counsel's is to decide whether criminal charges are warranted.
VOA: It certainly doesn't sound as though the naming of a special counsel in any way is slowing down the Intelligence Committee's work.
Collins: No, it's really not. There's some minor delay while we work with the special counsel to de-conflict our requests and to make sure we're not jeopardizing his [Mueller's] criminal case. But our purposes are really very different.
The job of the special counsel is to decide whether or not criminal charges are warranted against anyone in this case. Our job [in the Intelligence Committee] is broader. It's to look at policy. It's to look at, for example, if the conclusion is [that] the Russians tried to interfere with our elections, should we pass legislation to impose sanctions on the Russians? The special counsel can't pass legislation. We can't indict people.
VOA: Thank you, senator.
Collins: Thank you.