The Senate Intelligence Committee is probing the circumstances of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s discussions with Russian diplomats, Sen. Angus King told the Press Herald after the committee met Tuesday afternoon, amid calls by Democrats to convene a special commission to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

“The matter of Mr. Flynn and what he communicated with the Russians is very definitely part of our work – even the famous conversation in December – but also whether there are other contacts,” said King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Flynn resigned Monday after admitting he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States before President Trump was inaugurated. Trump told reporters on Friday that he knew nothing about the allegations, even though the White House has since said he knew about them “for weeks.”

Earlier in the day, top Republicans called for existing Congressional investigations to probe the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation, including Senate Republican conference chair Roy Blunt of Missouri, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said Flynn should appear before the committee “very soon.”

Both the Senate and House Intelligence committees are in the midst of broad investigations into Russian involvement in the election, including ties to any of the candidates and their campaigns.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have called for the creation of an independent, bipartisan, bicameral commission to investigate Russian influence on the election and ties to the new administration, but most Republicans have not.

“Part of our motivation has been that it feels as though they have been dragging their feet,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, one of 195 House Democrats who signed on to a bill that would create such a commission. “I would be very happy if the House and Senate committees do a broad investigation and ask things like ‘How long has this been going on, or what has been the impact of the Russians on the election?”

“In this particular era, there’s been a fair amount of reluctance on the part of the Republican majority to ask questions and bring a balanced group of witnesses before them,” Pingree said. “They’ve been so reluctant to do it that my colleagues and I felt we had to push for an outside look at this, just like we did after 9/11.”

She admitted that there wasn’t much indication that the Republicans would take up and pass the bill, but she noted things could change as events continue to unfold. “Events have been surprising virtually every day, and maybe a week from now Republicans will have felt enough pressure from their home districts to say, ‘OK, let’s have an independent, bicameral investigation.'”

King, however, says he sees no need for such a committee because the Senate Intelligence Committee is already plunging into the work. “We’ve already begun identifying witnesses and documents and the staff who are going to work on this, so we’re underway,” King said. “My position is that we’re the right committee to do this work.”

King said that the entire meeting of the committee Tuesday focused on the Flynn’s contacts with the Russians, and that it would definitely be part of their work going forward.

Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and agrees with King. “The Senate Intelligence Committee is already looking at the issues of Russia’s attempts to spread misinformation, efforts to influence the election, and any links between Russia and individuals associated with either of the campaigns,” she said in a written statement Tuesday evening. “Congressional investigations into issues like these are best performed by the Intelligence committees, which have the oversight authority, appropriately cleared staff, and responsibility to do so.”

A spokesman for Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, R-2nd District, said he expected the existing Senate and House Intelligence committee investigations would continue their work, but did not respond to questions about whether an independent commission was necessary.

“It is important we understand what any nation has done, or may do, to influence our democracy,” spokesman Brendan Conley said via email.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

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