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California now has a one-two punch on the Russia inquiry

California senators question Sessions on his ability to answer questions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to answer a question posed by California senator Dianne Feinstein (D) in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in 2017. He was then questioned by both Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris (D - Calif.) regardin
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to answer a question posed by California senator Dianne Feinstein (D) in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in 2017. He was then questioned by both Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris (D - Calif.) regardin

Kamala Harris is joining the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic leaders announced Tuesday.

The move not only adds a coveted post to the junior senator’s already high-profile set of committee assignments, it puts the state of California in a plum position to shape the inquiry into the Trump administration and its ties to Russia.

Harris joins California colleague Dianne Feinstein as the only two Democrats sitting on both the Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, the two Senate panels investigating Russia’s interference to help the president’s 2016 campaign and alleged White House attempts to quash the inquiry. The nexus gives California’s senators a unique vantage point on the direction of the investigations, as well as access to a broader scope of information than all but a few of their colleagues.

Just one other senator –Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn – sits on both powerful committees.

Should Democrats win back the Senate in November, Feinstein and Harris will be well positioned to lead the charge against Trump. As the Judiciary Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Feinstein would be poised to become its chair in a Democrat-led Senate, giving her subpoena power. And Democrats, not Republicans, would be the ones driving the committees’ agenda. That would no doubt include a much more aggressive investigation into Trump.

Even in the minority, however, Feinstein and other Democrats have been able to influence the conversation about Russia. Just Tuesday, the California senator stirred the pot by releasing a transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s 10 hours of testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee staff. The research firm is behind the infamous Trump dossier, full of compromising details about the then-2016 candidate. The president has denied them. Republicans have accused the author of the dossier, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, of lying to the FBI.

Feinstein said in a statement she was releasing the transcript because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what (Simpson) said (about the dossier) and judge for themselves.”

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein continued.

Harris has been angling for a spot on the judiciary committee – a natural fit for the former California attorney general – since winning her Senate seat in 2016. The new perch gives her a chance to play even more of a leadership role on some of her top priorities, including protecting immigrants and overhauling the criminal justice system.

“I look forward to the chance to continue to provide a voice for our most vulnerable communities, work on issues I’ve handled since my earliest days in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, and defend California in the face of this Administration’s repeated attacks on our values,” Harris said in a statement.

Harris will continue to serve on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee, as well as the intelligence panel. She is leaving her post on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei

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