I take you back in time now to a story from last October, by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel. I remember well the pit that formed in my stomach as I read the headline: “House Republicans are already preparing for ‘years’ of investigations of Clinton.”
Weigel nabbed an interview with Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, who said this: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
Back when he and just about everyone else thought the next president was going to be named Clinton, Chaffetz was telling—bragging to, actually—one of the country’s top political reporters that President Clinton was going to be investigated immediately. No, not even President Clinton. President-elect Clinton! He was going to be ready to roll on Nov. 9. And no one among us can doubt that he’d have kept his word, and Clinton right now would be facing at least one congressional investigation, and likely more, if she were in the White House. Over a matter on which her behavior was not good but on which she’d been cleared by the FBI.
But she is not the president. Donald Trump is. And he, we have decent reason to suspect, may have directed Mike Flynn to negotiate with Russia in the midst of the presidential campaign. We don’t know this of course. But we know that Trump had already encouraged Russia to hack Clinton’s emails and spoken fondly of Vladimir Putin many times; and we know that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador in late December but, by the ambassador’s own admission, before also, during the campaign; and we know that Flynn is a military man, which makes it reasonable to think he wouldn’t have a chat with his Russian contact about a President Trump maybe doing away with Obama’s sanctions without being told to or at least asking first.
This would seem to be something we’d want to find out.
And what does Chaffetz say now about all this, after Flynn’s resignation? “It’s taking care of itself,” he told a Politico reporter. Let the intelligence committee do it, Chaffetz said.
Well, that might be OK. In jurisdictional terms, Chaffetz actually has a point. But Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs intel, says, per Vox, that he won’t look into anything having to do with what Trump may or may not have said to Flynn. He cites executive privilege.
Trump of course wasn’t the chief executive at the time in question, late December.
So I think I have this right. Here are the new rules: If you’re a Democratic president-elect, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives will start investigating you before you’ve even interviewed possible Treasury secretaries. But if you’re a Republican president-elect, you can maybe violate the Logan Act and undermine the sitting president—with the country’s top global adversary, no less—and, well, you can just do that. Chaffetz, obviously feeling heat, did agree Tuesday afternoon to do something, but not about Russia. He sent Reince Priebus a mealy-mouthed letter saying gosh, golly, sir, maybe the president of the United States could try not to talk about a matter like a North Korean missile launch in public.
The Trump White House is a madhouse. That much has been obvious at least since the moment Sean Spicer insisted that Trump’s inaugural crowds were the biggest ever.
But it might be more than a madhouse. It might be a criminal madhouse. Or a Constitution-mocking madhouse, at least.
I shouldn’t need to say that finding this out is important. But: Finding this out is important. This isn’t the Forest Service we’re talking about. This is national security. This is Russia. This is the possibility that the Russian government has some kind of leverage over the President of the United States because of his business dealings.
Hey, it’s taking care of itself; what do we need the House for?
Things are at least a little more serious in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a probe is “highly likely.” Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee even stood next to his Democratic counterpart there, Mark Warner, to say the body’s probe would look at contacts between the Russians and Trump campaign officials. And Roy Blunt, also a member of the committee, said Flynn should talk to them “very soon.”
All of which only highlights what a disgrace these House Republicans are. Paul Ryan says there’s no need at all for an investigation into the Russia ties. And the House Ways and Means Committee voted 23-15, straight party lines, not to make Trump show his tax returns.
When will the day come that these people will put country and national security ahead of party and power? I know. You’re saying never. And maybe it will be never. If left to their druthers it would be never.
But fortunately they’re not left to their druthers. We still have intelligence agencies, who obviously despise Trump (and why shouldn’t they?) and who seem to have plenty of stuff to dribble out to hungry reporters. And we have the FBI, which is a more complicated matter, as it’s infested with Trump worshippers, but presumably James Comey may feel somewhere down there that he has a little something to atone for, not to mention some commitment to finding out whether the president of the United States is an instrument of Russian ambition. So the Republican Congress doesn’t necessarily get the last word.
But boy are they showing us who they are.