U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, from eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, became the first Republican member of the House of Representatives this week to support a proposed independent citizen commission to look into alleged Russian government interference in the 2016 election and any ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Democrats leading the call for the special commission announced Friday that Jones is a co-sponsor to the bill titled “Protecting Our Democracy Act.” If approved, the legislation would create a bipartisan-appointed commission similar to the one Congress authorized after the September 2001 terror attacks.
Trump has repeatedly said his campaign had no contact with Russian intelligence officials and on Thursday the president called media attention on the issue “a ruse.” It was Trump’s first major media availability since demanding the resignation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had come under fire for reportedly discussing with a Russian ambassador the U.S. lifting sanctions on the country. Flynn was accused of lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the phone conversations.
Congressional Democrats’ efforts to start more probes into Trump’s team and associates related to Russia come as the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is already weeks into investigating how and why alleged Russian hackers operated during the 2016 election. A similar House Intelligence Committee review is underway.
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Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced a third congressional investigation into whether Russia had influenced the election.
The proposed independent citizen commission would be the fourth legislative investigation of its kind, in addition to federal intelligence agency work.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Thursday during an MSNBC interview that the commission would explore and investigate any relationship between Trump’s campaign and Russia. He said the commission would include appointed citizens; “no congressmen, no senators.”
Jones’ office confirmed to McClatchy that he’s put his signature on the bill. All House Democrats are already co-sponsors.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, praised Jones’ support. Swalwell is a ranking member of the House CIA Subcommittee.
“Walter Jones deserves credit for being the first House Republican – but hopefully not the last – to acknowledge that our nation deserves an independent, bipartisan investigation into Russia’s hacking of our democracy in last year’s election,” Swalwell said in a news release Friday.
Democrats, and now Jones, are pushing for a 12-member commission that would have subpoena power and interview witnesses. The commission would likely hold public hearings and include a range of documents and intelligence related to alleged Russian meddling in the election, as well as any other similar acts by foreign governments or spies.