WASHINGTON – Michael R. Caputo will have to speak to the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation of Russian influence in last year's presidential election, but initial indications are that he will not be testifying in public.
The committee is interested in talking to Caputo because he worked for the Donald Trump presidential campaign from November 2015 through last June. In addition, Caputo worked as a political consultant in Russia in the 1990s and for Gazprom Media, which is allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the early 2000s.
Caputo, a Buffalo-area political consultant, prefers to testify in public rather than submitting to the private interview the committee requested. But when asked about that possibility, the committee's top Democrat indicated the committee was unlikely to grant Caputo's request.
"I think it is our expectation that the witness interviews will largely be done in private, if not exclusively in private," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California. "We've seen a few of the witnesses express interest in public testimony and some have books they're promoting and others that might have other motivations, so that's really not our interest. Our interest is in trying to get the most information we can and so we're not going to simply allow our witnesses to decide how we should conduct the investigation."
The committee – which is chaired by a Republican – could of course reverse course and seek public testimony from any witness, including Caputo, a Republican. But Schiff was not keen on that idea.
"We're not going to allow the witnesses we are inviting to decide how they're going to testify," he said. "That will be made on the basis of what we think is best for the investigation."
Caputo said he could not comment on what Schiff had to say.
Schiff spoke with reporters Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. There, he provided a broad outline of the state of the committee's investigation into Russia's election influence, but refused to discuss individual witnesses such as Caputo.
"I can't go into particular facts about why we're interested in one witness or another," Schiff said. "I don’t think people should infer things into our requests for people to provide information to us. There are obviously a number of people we are interested in talking to that may shed light on the issues that we're investigating."
Asked if he saw any "connective tissue" between Caputo, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page and others caught up in the Russia investigation, Schiff said the committee is looking into that.
"There's certainly obviously a number of people that have come to the public's attention already that are people of interest in the Russian investigation," he said. "Whether they are isolated actors or whether there's a common denominator to more than one or several of these actors are things that we need to investigate."
He said the Russians have used various tactics – blackmail, the gathering of compromising information, cyber attacks and propaganda spread through media outlets and social media trolls – to influence European elections.
"We're looking to see which of those they employed in our election, and they may have used different actors for different parts of that," Schiff said. "We don't know. We need to try to find out. There may have been more than one actor involved in more than one issue. So the short answer is: We have to try to find out whether these are isolated actors, whether their conduct has innocent explanations, or whether there's more at the root of this."