THIS WASN’T QUITE Watergate hearing bombshell material but there sure were sparks Wednesday on Capitol Hill when U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, played the role of key inquisitor of Attorney General William Barr during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

Shaheen started by calling on Barr to assure the American people the Mueller report will be completely released as soon as possible.

But then the state’s senior senator pressed him on reports the AG was forming a team to look into why federal investigators got the investigation of then-candidate Trump’s campaign rolling in the first place.

Right around the same time Wednesday, Trump was telling reporters outside the White House the origin of the investigation was an “attempted coup” by federal investigators he said were guilty of treason.

“Who is on that team, why have you felt the need to form such a team and what will be the scope of the investigation,” Shaheen asked Barr.

Barr noted the Department of Justice’s Inspector General already had opened an inquiry into investigative methods that kicked off the $25 million Mueller report into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to alter the outcome of the 2016 election.

But Barr said he wanted to “pull all the information together.”

“Why did you feel the need to do that?” Shaheen asked.

Barr answered, “Well, for the same reason we are worried about foreign influence in elections we want to make sure, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal, a big deal.”

A short time later Shaheen broke in with, “You are not suggesting though that spying occurred?”

Barr paused and responded, “I don’t well, I guess, I think that spying did occur, yes I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated; I am not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.”

Later Barr, who served as AG under former President George H. Bush, defended the FBI’s integrity.

“This is not launching an investigation of the FBI, frankly to the extent there were any issues at the FBI I don’t view it as a problem that is endemic to the FBI,” Barr said.

“I think there was probably a failure of a group of leaders there at the upper echelon because I don’t like to see attacks on the FBI.”

Ex-Hassan Staffer revealed as Doxxing accomplice

The New Hampshire Sunday News first reported a Hassan staffer had served as a willing accomplice, helping a former staffer to burglarize Hassan’s office multiple times and using office computers to violate the personal privacy of five Republican senators over the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

We’ve confirmed that person was Samantha G. DeForest Davis, who had worked as a staff assistant in Hassan’s office from August 2017 until she was fired soon after the arrest of the ex-staffer Jackson Cosko last October.

Cosko pleaded guilty to five federal felonies and will likely be sentenced to at least two years in federal prison this June.

The Daily Caller reported there were court documents on file regarding Davis in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, but as yet no charges filed against her.

In Cosko’s case, Davis was only identified as “Subject A.”

Hassan’s office has declined to comment on the woman’s identity other than to describe how the senator handled the matter.

“We became aware of Subject A’s involvement shortly after Cosko’s arrest. As soon as we were aware, the individual was removed from our office and ultimately fired,” said Hassan spokesman Aaron Jacobs.

According to her Linkedin profile, Samantha DeForest Davis’ hometown is Beloit, Wisc.

She attended Augustina College in Rock Island, Ill. as a political science major, serving as speaker of the college’s Senate until she stepped down from that position for an internship in Washington, D.C.

Republican State Chairman Stephen Stepanek said there should be an investigation in the background of Hassan’s entire staff.

”If there is one former staffer there’s smoke, a second staffer there’s fire, and how do we know if the vetting was done any better with everyone who is on her staff,” Stepanek said.

Sununu praises GOP senator, slights NH’s delegation

The animosity between Gov. Chris Sununu and the Democratic congressional delegation has been building in recent months.

This has surely been fueled by the fact Sununu remains the only chief executive in New England who failed to support a multi-state lawsuit challenging Trump’s move to divert federal spending to build a wall on the southern border.

State Democratic leaders have tried to get Sununu to jump aboard that suit, warning that three construction projects at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worth $162 million were potentially at risk through the President’s budget gambit.

So it was little wonder then when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, declared the shipyard projects are fine, Sununu knew who to credit for the save.

“Senator Susan Collins has shown exemplary leadership in receiving assurances that these critical projects are on track,” Sununu said in a statement Wednesday morning. “I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Senator Collins for taking action and her dedication to keeping these Portsmouth Naval Shipyard projects moving forward.”

Shaheen spokesman Ryan Nickel didn’t comment about Sununu’s remarks, but did say it’s too early to celebrate that the Portsmouth shipyard was out of the woods.

“It’s certainly encouraging that military officials continue to indicate that shipyard projects are on track to be awarded in this fiscal year,” Nickel said in a statement. “

Unfortunately, nothing currently prevents the Trump administration from raiding this funding until the awards are made, which is why there’s been bipartisan concern about the shipyard losing urgently needed resources.

“It’s not uncommon for awards for military construction projects to be delayed several months or more, including at the shipyard. Sen. Shaheen will continue to advocate for the shipyard being removed from the Trump administration’s border wall funding list and encourage the Department of Defense to lock in the funding for shipyard projects.”

Another week, another Sununu campaign rumor

Barely a week goes by without still more speculation about Governor Sununu’s political future, namely whether he’s running for reelection as governor, running for the U.S. Senate against Shaheen or riding off into the sunset in 2020.

WMUR reported earlier Wednesday that sources had told the station that Sununu assured GOP figures he definitely was running for a third term as the state’s chief executive next year.

As soon as that report was put on Twitter, however, Sununu himself knocked it down with a statement reading in part, “I have absolutely made no decision on my future in public service. Whether I run for reelection, for the U.S. Senate or go back to the private sector — I will make that decision later this spring with Valerie and the kids.”

As we reported a week ago, Sununu sure sounded like someone heavily engaged in state and not national politics at the state GOP fundraiser in Nashua.

Then the guest of honor, Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Lea Trump, told reporters she hoped Sununu would run for governor again.

There are other national GOP figures, however, who want Sununu to keep this “I may run for Senate” out there as the effort continues to identify a solid, well-financed alternative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat.

Sununu has decided, however, he’s not going to allow this timetable to drag on too much longer.

You may remember in 2015 then NH Gov. Maggie Hassan made plenty of out-of-state fundraising trips in 2015 but she didn’t confirm until October of that year she was going to challenge then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH.

Why? Hassan ended up vetoing a state budget and that State House dispute kept her on the political sidelines.

Now we see Sununu is in the middle of an already-bitter state budget battle of his own with Democratic legislative leaders.

Sununu is well aware that if he’s going to run for governor again and lead the effort to try and take the Legislature and Executive Council out of Democratic hands next year, the sooner all of that can officially get underway the better.

Buttigieg numbers catch fire in NH

A new independent poll from Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics reveals Pete Buttigieg really is on a roll, getting noticed in this ever-expanding 2020 Democratic presidential field.

The South Bend, Ind. mayor leaped to third place in a horse race poll done April 3-8 with a total of 698 registered voters.

He had 10.7 percent, behind only 2016 New Hampshire primary winner Bernie Sanders at 15.6 percent and former Vice President Joe Biden with 22.9 percent.

Those with no opinion were actually third-highest, since 13.2 percent gave that answer.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was in fourth with 8.7 percent.

The margin of error is plus or minus 5.4 percent.

Timing was everything and to be sure the media furor over Buttigieg of late surely didn’t hurt how he did in this poll.

For starters, Buttigieg tweeted on April 4 he’d be making a “special announcement” April 14 in South Bend.

Then he headed east and sold out an appearance on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston.

By the following day organizers had to move his first of two events in New Hampshire to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester.

While Buttigieg was here April 5-6, the only other major Democratic hopefuls in the state while this poll was being taken were New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (4.4 percent) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (1 percent).

Shaheen’s fans return attack ad fireIn 2016, the Senate Majority PAC spent a record $15.9 million on Hassan’s behalf, outspending by $6 million what the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee spent to try to help Ayotte.

So when a socially conservative Super PAC, Americas PAC, bankrolled a $290,200 radio ad buy attacking Shaheen’s support for abortion rights, you had to know the Senate Majority PAC wasn’t going to sit idly by and not answer.

The pro-Shaheen team has bought $200,000 of radio ads that will run on stations across the state for the next two months.

”They’re back. Already shameful political attacks paid for by out-of-state billionaires,” the pro-Shaheen ad begins.

”Out-of-state billionaires twisting the facts about Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s record on health care.”

On Tuesday, Shaheen’s campaign announced she raised a record, $1.4 million in donations for her reelection, more than any other New Hampshire incumbent senator raised in the quarter this far ahead of the election.

There were 8,600 donors and 92 percent were less than $100, according to Rachel Berger, Shaheen’s finance director

Klobuchar staffs up in NH

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s 2020 presidential campaign has made three key staff hires in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Scott Merrick will be state director for the Minnesota senator’s campaign here, having served as deputy state director for Shaheen, along with five years as a NH House member from Coos County. Most recently he’s been vice president of business development for Athenium Analytics, a Dover-based technology company.

Sondra Milkie will be deputy director. She recently managed a Maryland congressional race, along with working as a digital and direct-mail consultant in D.C.

Ben Ernst will be the campaign’s political director and served in that role for the NH Democratic Party. Last year he directed the NH State Senate Democratic Caucus that flipped the upper chamber from red to blue. The Virginia native worked in several states for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Earlier this week, Democratic presidential rival Cory Booker secured a unique milestone — the first state Senate endorsement of a candidate.

First-term Sen. Jon Morgan came on board the campaign after having gone to several events hosted by other candidates.

NH Senate Dem promoting capital gains tax

First term Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, pushed back at Sununu’s opposition to a capital gains tax, maintaining it could help attract younger workers back to New Hampshire by making key investments in education and other programs.

As proposed, the tax would extend the 5 percent interest and dividends tax to capital gains with a high deduction to exempt earnings of seniors and lower-income citizens.

She recalled coming to the state during the mid-1980s when she said the state was a magnet for young people.

”People like us, in their thirties, were pouring into the state,” Dietsch recalled in a commentary to her constituents.

”Now our state is 48th in Millennial population. State Treasurer (William) Dwyer reports that New Hampshire’s workforce growth for the decade was a third of our neighbor’s to the south. Crime is up. Opioid use and suicide beleaguers us. Schools are closing from lack of funds. We’re 35th in venture capital investment and 44th in single-family building permits.”