Republicans have been making the case that between the intelligence community and the House and Senate intelligence committees, no special prosecutor or independent commission is required to get to the bottom of any improper ties between the Trump campaign and/or transition and Russian officials. They are slowly undermining their own case.
On Monday, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), demonstrated why he’s unfit to lead a House inquiry. Acting like a pure partisan, he declared that there is “no evidence” of wrongdoing but that the leaks were criminal. And, using unnamed sources, he prejudged the conclusion. “As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist. … What I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there,” he said. What folks? Perhaps he is referring to the inappropriate contact with the White House in which he was deployed to provide press spin.
The only problem is that he has done no investigation; he hasn’t even tried, explained ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.). The Post reports:
Schiff pointed to the fact that the committee has not yet received any documents, called any witnesses, or even released the final agreement about the scope of its investigation. Schiff said he expects that framework to be announced later on Monday.
“When you begin an investigation, you don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion,” Schiff told reporters.
Nunes doesn’t seem interested in getting relevant data: “Over Nunes’s objections, Schiff is angling for the committee to receive transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.” Instead, Nunes is already providing a defense for Michael T. Flynn: “Nunes described Flynn as having done a ‘big favor’ by ‘keeping lines of communication’ open with Russia after President Barack Obama expelled Russian officials from the United States in response to allegations that country interfered in the U.S. elections. Nunes said we should ‘be thanking’ Flynn and ‘not going after him.'” On Sunday he seemed to condemn his own investigation. “This is almost like McCarthyism revisited,” he said at a California GOP event. “We’re going to go on a witch hunt against, against innocent Americans?” He has disqualified himself under most any legal or ethical standard.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who had been regarded as more diligent, now is in the hot seat as well. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was measured but clearly perturbed about Burr’s role in helping to bat down critical news stories about the president. Politico reports:
Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters he was “very disappointed” in Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) acknowledgment that he called reporters to knock down allegations about multiple contacts between Trump emissaries and Russia. Burr’s conduct “certainly gives the appearance, if not the reality, of a lack of impartiality” in his committee’s bipartisan probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Schumer added.
He did not need to turn up the heat any higher; both Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) chastised Burr — and for good reason.
Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes at the Lawfare blog explain:
The most important element of a successful congressional investigation is a Chairman and members actually committed to conducting a politically-independent process. . . . That degree of independence seems far less likely where the Chairman was willing to act at the direction of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to privately help counter an alarming New York Times story reporting repeated contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence during the elections.
Moreover, as they point out, even if Burr operates in good faith, his committee lacks the staff and resources to conduct a wide-ranging, thorough investigation.
Over in the executive branch, things are even messier. Campaign confidant and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not recused himself. And then there is the FBI director, James B. Comey, who decided to reveal a minor blip in the Hillary Clinton email matter just 11 days before the election while keeping mum on a joint investigation with the CIA on Russia. Comey allowed an underling, with apparently no consequences, to confer with the White House on a press strategy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) suggested that Comey is holding information back. “My increasing concern is that classification now is being used much more for political security than for national security,” he said over the weekend. (Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, renewed calls for an independent commission.) And the Senate intelligence committee’s ranking Democrat, Mark Warner (Va.), said he wouldn’t tolerate politicization of the process.
Republicans, true to form on the Trump presidency, are behaving as partisan minions of an ethically suspect administration. They are more eager to spin on behalf of the president than to investigate him. Meanwhile, no Republican committee chairman is demanding that Trump turn over his tax returns or abide by the Constitution’s emoluments clause. They shouldn’t be entrusted with the investigation unless they quickly prove they are serious about their oaths of office. Alternatively, the voters can take the majority away from them in 2018.