In the wake of perhaps the biggest scandal to slam the Trump administration since the President’s ill-conceived executive order on immigration, Republican leaders in the House and Senate tried to downplay the explosiveness of the revelation that Trump’s national security advisor had secretly discussed dropping US sanctions against Russia with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration and then lied to Vice President Mike Pence about those calls.
The White House has known about the nature of Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at least since late January but only asked for Flynn’s resignation when his lies were made public.
According to his press secretary, Pence did not find out about the true substance of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak until Feb. 9 even though Trump was first informed by the Justice Department about its concerns over Flynn’s actions on Jan. 26.
Andy yet, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had only this to say about the resignation of General Michael Flynn: “As far as White House personnel is concerned, it’s the president’s call, everybody at the White House serves at his pleasure.” McConnell would very much like to keep any investigation of possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian spies under the auspices of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is controlled by Republicans and whose proceedings are closed to the public. Keep in mind, Sen. McConnell’s own nakedly partisan and behind-the-scenes efforts helped thwart stronger action to stop Russian interference at least two months prior to the November election.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, feigning satisfaction, described Flynn’s dismissal as an appropriate response to the serious but simple matter of Flynn lying to the Vice President. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) took the Speaker’s complacency one step further, saying that Flynn’s resignation had pretty much taken care of itself, as if Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the influence it may exert over the current Trump administration were no longer of concern to anyone.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and part of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, suggested that he might carry out an investigation of his own but one that would focus on the leaks surrounding Flynn’s call, rather than Flynn’s illegal conduct and possible collusion with Russian officials. Nunes absurdly cited the President’s “executive privilege” as the main reason he couldn’t investigate the President’s actions before, and after, he entered the White House.
Democratic leaders in the Senate and House, on the other hand, were far more interested in learning what Flynn, and other members of Trump’s campaign, were telling Moscow while it was busy meddling in the US election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) immediately called for an independent criminal investigation into Flynn’s crimes, which we now know include interfering in US foreign relations while still a private citizen—a direct violation of the Logan Act—and may include lying to the FBI.
“There needs to be an independent and transparent investigation, because the White House knew for weeks that General Flynn misled the Vice President,” Schumer said in a press conference Tuesday. “and that his discussion about sanctions with the Russian government could potentially compromise our national security because he was subject to blackmail. And yet they let him stay on for weeks, present at and participating in the highest level of national security discussions.” Schumer, a former Senate Judiciary Committee member, was sure to make clear who should and should not lead such an investigation.
“The White House counsel cannot lead this investigation,” Schumer added, “and the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, cannot be the person to lead that investigation.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of course, has been a long-time political supporter of President Trump, as well as a senior campaign adviser who, along with his former Senate aide, Stephen Miller, has been the “ideological leader” of Trump’s populist movement. At a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday Sen. Schumer reiterated the need for Sen. Sessions to follow Department of Justice guidance and recuse himself.
Top Republicans in the Senate and House, however, continue to insist the matter be investigated by existing Republican-led committees.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee asked Chairman Chaffetz, the top Congressional watchdog in the House, to look into the allegations against Flynn or “allow the Committee to vote on conducting basic oversight going forward.” Chaffetz, of course, led numerous House hearings and probes into Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the Benghazi attack but has so far refused to look into the Flynn scandal.
The following day, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, along with Nunes, told Democratic House members that Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were only the beginning and that more revelations would be forthcoming.
As David Benjamin points out in Politico, we need to stop focusing on the revelation and start focusing on Trump’s ties to Russia, starting with: “Who told Flynn to call Russia?”
The latest disclosures late Tuesday about the broader communications between Trump aides and Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, of course, raise more, serious questions about whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to hack the DNC and to swing the presidential election in Trump’s favor. At least one of the people involved in those intercepted communications, according to The Times, was Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair from April to August 2016. Many of those same aides remain some of Trump’s closest advisers and are currently working within the Trump administration.
It’s time for Republican leaders in Congress to stop their partisan stonewalling. They need to join Democrats in calling for a full, bipartisan investigation—independent of Congress and the White House—into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Many see the 9/11 Commission as a good model. House Democrats, in fact, have a bill to impanel such a commission ready and waiting: the Protecting Our Democracy Act, sponsored by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Other Democrats are demanding a special prosecutor be assigned.
As Zack Beauchamp correctly points out, there are three connected yet separate scandals that need investigating: one which has to do with Russia’s interference in the election, another which has to do with Michael Flynn’s improper contact with the Russian ambassador after (and possibly before) the election, and a third which involves compromising material that Russian intelligence may or may not have on President Trump.
As the days go on, more and more in the explosive Trump dossier is being confirmed. The President of the United States may be compromised, and we need to know immediately what is motivating him as well as his closest advisers in the White House.
To interpret the current barrage of White House leaks as “payback” by the intelligence agencies for Trump’s prior criticisms or for the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, is to willfully misunderstand the gravity of this situation. Government officials take an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies—foreign and domestic. The relentlessness of the White House leaks speaks to the urgency of the situation, to the degree of their concern in the face of such unprecedented conduct, incompetence and rampant corruption.
The American people are entitled to know the truth about the role the Trump campaign, and the President himself, played in the critically compromised presidential election. We are entitled to know who was involved in this conspiracy against our democracy. And we must demand that Congress act immediately to uncover the truth.
If such an investigation should reveal that our worst fears about the Trump campaign and Russia were true, we can then turn our attention to restoring order by swearing in the legitimate winner.
– Danielle Bizzarro