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Maine's Delegation Divided on Probe of Michael Flynn, Russia

All four members of the Maine’s Congressional Delegation say they support an investigation into Russian attempts to influence last year’s elections, but they differ on how best to accomplish that goal.

Maine’s two senators both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which they say is already investigating possible Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election, and will expand that probe to look into communications between the Russians and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn before he took office.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins says the effort has bipartisan support.

“It is a broad investigation and it will certainly be extended to cover the allegations against Gen. Flynn,” she says.

President Donald Trump and some in Congress, meanwhile, have criticized the leaks of information about Flynn, and say they pose a serious threat to national security.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King told NPR that he agrees leaks of classified information should also be thoroughly investigated.

“I consider the leak investigation as significant, and one that should be on its own track, but I see that as separate from the underlying investigation of the substantive issue of Russian attempts to influence the American election,” he says.

King says that on the Senate side, committee members from both parties fully support an exhaustive investigation.

But U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, says there is no such bipartisan support in the House, which is why she is co-sponsoring legislation to launch an independent investigation.

“They just have to be pushed, dragging and screaming, the Republicans that chair these committees, to actually dig in deep, have thorough investigations to bring in the right witnesses — you know, really call for enough information,” she says.

But King says even if an independent investigation were to be approved, it would lag well behind the work that’s already been started by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“The problem with that is, as I see it, and I understand the impulse for that, is they it would take them months to get where we already are in terms of identifying documents, identifying people, working with the agencies,” he says.

And Collins says an independent probe would actually slow down the process of getting answers to some very serious questions, including what Flynn did both during the campaign and in the interim period before he briefly served as President Trump’s national security advisor.

“It particularly raises questions if, and we don’t know the answer to this yet, there were any discussions of the easing of the sanctions on Russia. That would be very troubling,” she says.

Collins says that all of those questions will be answered by the intelligence committee investigation.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District declined to be interviewed for this story, but his spokesman says Poliquin expects the existing intelligence committees in the House and Senate would do their jobs and investigate the activities of any nation seeking to influence elections in the U.S.

NPR's Steve Inskeep talks with Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, about the Intelligence Committee's investigation on Wednesday's Morning Edition.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.