WASHINGTON ― House Republicans really don’t want to investigate possible ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his administration and Russian officials.
In a House Judiciary meeting where members voted on the committee’s plans for the year, Democrats offered an amendment that would have made oversight of any ongoing investigation into Trump’s alleged connections to the Russian government a priority.
Every single Republican voted against the measure. Democrats deployed the amendment as a symbolic vote, knowing full well Republicans wouldn’t support it.
Here’s the text of the amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas): “The subcommittee will prioritize oversight of any ongoing criminal or counterintelligence investigation into any connection between Donald J. Trump as presidential candidate and as President of the United States or any of his associates or employees and the Russian government.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) drew attention to the vote in a tweet on Wednesday. In an interview with The Huffington Post later in the day, he said it was “stirring” how “little of a priority” Republicans considered oversight of possible links between the president and Russia.
“It was a good day for Russia, and bad day for the U.S.,” Swalwell said.
Pressed on it being a symbolic vote expected to fail, Swalwell pushed back. “A committee that has oversight of many of the issues involving Russia just voted three different times to look the other way,” he said.
“It’s sad that the deliberative body is moving with urgency, and that the urgent body is moving deliberatively,” he said.
The move by Democrats comes days after Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned amid revelations that he discussed sanctions against Russia with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. Democrats immediately called for an investigation. House Republicans said not so fast.
Even as the story has become an all-consuming controversy, House Republicans in particular have been steadfast in their reluctance to pursue any investigation of the Flynn scandal.
Leading the “move on” chorale from the lower chamber has been Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight Committee. Yesterday, Chaffetz responded to the growing demand that Congress scrutinize Flynn’s communications with Russian officials by saying that there was no need to conduct any further probe into the matter, telling reporters that “it’s taking care of itself.”
On Wednesday, Chaffetz and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) requested information from the Justice Department about the leaks that revealed Flynn’s communications with the Russian official. House Republicans have shown more concern about the intelligence leaks themselves than Flynn’s actions and whether he was directed by higher-ups.
As Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told HuffPost: “We appear to know the facts, I’m not obsessed about this.”
Meanwhile, Chaffetz’s counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has taken up Flynn’s cause as well. Prior to his resignation, Nunes had defended Flynn in an appearance on Fox News, referring to him as “the best intelligence officer of his generation” and complaining that Flynn was “being maliciously attacked by the press.”
Nunes’ tone hasn’t changed as the story has unfolded. As CNN’s Manu Raju reported, Nunes’ first response after Flynn tendered his resignation was to suggest that the intelligence committee had no jurisdiction to do any further probing, citing “executive privilege” ― thus asserting that Flynn’s conversations with Trump were protected communications. Since then, Nunes has made it clear he’d rather investigate the leaks that led to Flynn’s downfall.
Elsewhere, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) argued that Flynn’s only fault was the fact that he was new on the job. “In this case, a very loyal, hardworking patriot did not know exactly what the parameters of his authority were because he was brand new,” he said. Everything else, Rohrbacher contended, was a “media creation.”
In a contentious interview on CNN, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) repeatedly insisted that it was time to “move on.” “Gen. Flynn did what he thought was in the best interest of the country,” he contended. “I certainly respect that and I think it’s just time to move on.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo argued otherwise, insisting that there was “zero chance” that the media would let the story go and asking Collins if he’d be willing to “move on” as easily if it had been a similar scandal in a Hillary Clinton White House. “It’s Valentine’s Day,” Cuomo quipped, “and for the love of truth you cannot say you just want to move on.”
Collins was unmoved. “Guess what?” he asked. “He’s resigned. Now what? We have a lot of issues to deal with. That’s how I live my life. I don’t dwell in the past.”
This seems to be the consensus in the House. “Gen. Flynn has resigned. Case done,” said Rep. Rob Whitman (R-Va.).
For his part, House Speaker Paul Ryan has told reporters, “I’m not going to prejudge any of the circumstances surrounding this until we have all of the information,” perhaps momentarily forgetting that Congress is empowered to search out said information.
And as news broke roughly 24 hours later that members of Trump’s presidential campaign were in “constant contact” with Russian intelligence officials during the election, House Republicans remained silent.
But they can delay for only so long. Republicans in the upper chamber have questions surrounding what Flynn did, what Trump’s campaign aides did, and how far up the White House chain of command knowledge of these activities extended.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wants to get answers, and fast, about contact between top members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials before the steady trickle of revelations cripples larger legislative efforts.
Republican lawmakers have their eye on passing tax reform, as well as settling on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. When asked about what legislative priorities were suffering in the wake of the unfolding scandal, Corker quipped, “You name it,” making it clear that Republicans wouldn’t be able to train their focus on anything until they get to the bottom of what Flynn told Russia’s U.S. ambassador about sanctions.
Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Wednesday that the latest development “influenced” his thinking on how Republicans need to proceed with an investigation ― hinting at a broad effort to seek answers in multiple committees.
“This is something that not only we need to understand, and we need to get to the bottom of, but I know the American people need to also,” Corker said. “And so the intel hearings typically are behind closed doors. They’ve committed to making it public as much as they can, but I think with this continuing ― every day you guys are asking us questions ― it’s obviously disruptive to governing. We need to figure out a better way to handle this.”
Late Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a joint request to the Justice Department and FBI for a briefing on Flynn’s resignation.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed similar frustrations on Wednesday with the chaos the White House’s “mixed messages” and “contradictory statements” have caused.
“On literally every major issue there is, there’s been contradictory statements,” he said.
Pressed for his thoughts on the reports Trump’s campaign team communicated regularly with Russian officials, McCain couldn’t say with “confidence” that such contact didn’t extend all the way up to the president.
“All of it is concerning,” he said, “all of it is very concerning, all of it is very concerning.”
Matt Fuller contributed reporting.