You know things are looking grim for President Trump when he starts tweeting about Hillary Clinton again. Monday evening he sounded trapped and wounded: “Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech.” Well, perhaps it is because she is not president, did not hold back her tax returns, did not constantly cheer for Vladimir Putin, did not hire a host of pro-Putin flunkies and did not have aides who lied about contact with Russian officials.
Trump’s tweet certainly appears to be an attempt to deflect attention and to shift discussion away from the newest revelation about the Trump Russia scandal. The Post reports:
The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.
According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.
That will strike many as a ham-handed attempt to interfere with the investigation. Moreover, it makes the decision House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) (who remains under fire for his bizarre secret trip to the White House to view alleged information from some unidentified source, which he still has not revealed to other members of the committee) made to cancel an open hearing look once again like water-carrying for the White House.
Nunes’s fondness for the cameras and determination to throw up dust on behalf of the president has already sparked calls from Democrats, including Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), for Nunes to recuse himself. “We’ve reached the point, after the events of this week, where it would be very difficult to maintain the credibility of the investigation if the chairman did not recuse himself from matters involving either the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team of which he was a member,” Schiff said.
Appearing on CBS this morning Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus of voices lambasting Nunes:
NORAH O’DONNELL: Let me ask you about what Chairman Nunes has done. Do you think it was appropriate that he went to go view these so-called intelligence reports on White House grounds?
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I think there needs to be a lot of explaining to do. I’ve been around for quite a while and I’ve never heard of any such thing. And– obviously– in a committee like an intelligence committee, you’ve got to have bipartisanship, otherwise the committee loses– credibility.
And so– l– there’s so much out there that needs to be explained by the chairman. And– look– if– this is a very serious issue. It all started with Russian interference– attempt to change the outcome of our election. And so, it’s turning into a centipede like these things have a tendency of doing. And another shoe seems to drop every few days.
NORAH O’DONNELL: And I know that’s why you have called for a select committee, an independent committee, because of the seriousness of these allegations. Should Chairman Nunes reveal his source?
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, absolutely. I can’t imagine why not. And I also believe that the entire committee should be engaged. The reason why the armed services committee– honestly does, is successful is we work in a bipartisan fashion. Senator Burr and Senator Warner on our intelligence committee are in the Senate, work closely together. They may have differences, but– you’ve got to have a bipartisan approach to an issue such as this if you want to be credible. . . .
There is more engagement– with– with false information. There is– a lot more associated with Russian attempts to affect America. Our election, but there’s also a lot of other Russian activities going on. For example, right now, they’re attempting to affect the outcome in France.
Stopping just short of demanding Nunes recuse himself, McCain’s open criticism of Nunes nevertheless opens the door for more pressure on Nunes from the GOP. Republicans may be reading polling showing Trump’s approval dropping and support for an independent commission rising. (In the latest Quinnipiac poll voters favor an independent inquest by a 66 to 29 percent margin.) Frankly, if Republicans in Congress want to demonstrate independence from a failing president and avoid constant questions about the issue they’d be smart to offload the entire matter to an independent commission or select committee. Nunes has made his own position — and Republicans’ support for him — increasingly difficult to maintain.
UPDATE: As he often does, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) gets off the best line regarding Nunes: “The problem that he’s created is he’s gone off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here.” Indeed.