Until this week, the Russia connections of President Trump, his advisers and his campaign were “only” a media story, a trigger for international intelligence investigations (foreign intelligence services, like ours, are running down leads, no doubt) and a foreign policy nightmare (Will he betray Europe? Will he relax sanctions?). Now it is a political nightmare for Republicans.
The intrigue surrounding Michael T. Flynn put the story front and center. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s renewed vigor suggests that there is something to be found.
A USA TODAY analysis of local news coverage from Montana to Virginia found several incidences of voters pressing Republican lawmakers on Russia, in addition to hot topics such as Obamacare and immigration restrictions.
Rep. Tom Reed, who represents a rural, working-class district on the southwest tip of New York, was peppered by a number of constituents during his first town hall at a senior center, with one exchange in particular turning testy as Reed said he hadn’t seen enough evidence to merit a formal probe. Some in the crowd yelled “What are you covering up?” and “Russia!” as the woman called the issue “embarrassing” for the nation.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines recently told tele-townhall callers the government has “got to investigate” after being asked “what’s going on” with the Trump administration and Russia.
The confrontations show that Trump’s potential ties to Russia are resonating beyond the Capital Beltway to become a grass-roots issue.
Politico likewise reports that voters are asking questions about why Republicans aren’t taking the Russia issue more seriously:
Constituents and liberal activists are demanding to know what GOP lawmakers are doing to help or hinder investigations into the president’s ties to Moscow and Russian interference in the 2016 election. The scrutiny suggests the firestorm over alleged ties between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign and administration has spread well beyond the Beltway.
“I am very concerned about the Trump administration and his ties to Russia,” a woman told GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley in Garner, Iowa, on Tuesday — winning huge applause from the overflow crowd when she said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, created a stir on Thursday during a radio interview when she suggested that Flynn should come testify. Even more significant, when asked about using the subpoena power to demand the president’s tax returns, she said: “I don’t know whether we will need to do that. If it’s necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.”
Well, absent a full voluntary disclosure of Trump’s finances, we find it hard to see how it would not be necessary. Quite apart from Russia, a flurry of reports on his trademarks bestowed by foreign powers suggests that he has a serious emoluments problem under the Constitution. With regard to Russia specifically, the plot keeps thickening. The New York Times reported that longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen met with pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii V. Artemenko and Felix H. Sater, a Trump associate who helped search for business deals in Russia (where Trump says he has no connections) as late as 2015. Now Ukraine is looking at treason charges against Artemenko. Shouldn’t Cohen and Sater, at the very least, be called to testify about Russian deals involving Trump?
We’ve called for all lawmakers of both parties to take a pledge requiring disclosure of Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years and an investigation into all foreign monies received, followed by enforcement of the emoluments clause. That seems the bare minimum obligation any responsible lawmaker charged with oversight should undertake. If they won’t do so, it is fair to ask why they are protecting a president who has refused to show his tax returns, sever ties with his businesses or say a critical word about the Russian president.