U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is finally getting the opportunity he's been seeking since last year to look into Russia and the Donald Trump campaign ("Tinker Tailor Senator Spy," WW, Feb. 22, 2017).

On Thursday, March 30, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Wyden serves as a key minority member, will hold its first open hearings in its investigation to "examine disinformation, focusing on a primer in Russian active measures and influence campaigns" in the 2016 presidential election.

The Senate committee has moved to the center of the action in the biggest scandal plaguing the Donald Trump administration since House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.) apparently sabotaged a concurrent investigation by his own committee last week.

Nunes reportedly ditched his own staff in the dead of night to inform the White House of information received by his committee, in what Congressional Democrats and some Republicans denounced an improper effort to protect Trump. "What happened…was a massive hit on the credibility of that investigation," Wyden said March 24 in response to questions from WW.

The Senate hearings are scheduled to start at 7am and 11am Portland time and can be streamed live at c-span.org. Key witnesses to be called include former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander, who now heads a private contractor, IronNet Cybersecurity, as well as Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of another contractor called FireEye that published some of the key digital forensic analyses attempting to connect the Russian government to last year's hack of the Democratic National Committee.

And he's made it clear he wants to follow the money. On March 29, Wyden wrote to Senate intel committee leadership requesting "a thorough review of any and all financial relationships between Russia and President Trump and his associates."

The text of that letter, addressed to Senate intel committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was a member of Trump's transition team, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Virginia) appears below.

March 29, 2017

Dear Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner,

I am writing to urge that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in its inquiry into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, conduct a thorough review of any and all financial relationships between Russia and President Trump and his associates. 

There are reports of multiple individuals associated with the Trump campaign having received funding from Russia.  For example, on March 23, 2017, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort acknowledged his previous work on behalf of Russian interests.  In an August 15, 2016, interview, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn acknowledged being paid by RT, which is part of Russia’s state-run propaganda apparatus. 

There have also been extensive press reporting on President Trump’s own financial relationships with Russian interests.  Furthermore, the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., stated in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” 

Efforts to understand these relationships and to separate fact from speculation have been hampered by the opacity of the finances of President Trump and his associates.  There are also serious challenges to investigations into financial relationships involving Russia where, according to the U.S. Department of State, money laundering is prevalent and corruption is a “major source of laundered funds, with proceeds frequently moved offshore.”  

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, I have a particular interest in thoroughly investigating the financial aspects of Russia’s connections to President Trump and his associates.  On March 1, 2017, I formally requested that the Committee use its authority under IRC Section 6103 to request and review President Trump’s tax returns.  As fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee, you no doubt fully appreciate the complexity and importance of pursuing these matters as well as the unique responsibilities and authorities held by the Finance Committee. 

At the same time, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s inquiry provides an opportunity to immediately address these matters.  The inquiry includes counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, a scope that encompasses any financial links.  Moreover, the Committee has long recognized the importance of finances to its oversight role.  As one recent Committee report noted, “[f]inancial intelligence has emerged as a significant area of [Intelligence Community] activity, aiming to ‘follow the money’ of adversaries.”

I appreciate your leadership in initiating the Committee’s inquiry, in assuring that its scope covers these and other critical matters, and in committing to open hearings and declassified findings.  As you have further indicated, the Committee should be prepared to issue subpoenas should information necessary to the inquiry, on this or any other topic, be withheld. 

I look forward to working with you on this critical matter.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden

United States Senator

This post has been updated with the full text of Wyden's letter.