Earlier this week, the House Intelligence Committee formally closed its probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, with the Republican majority issuing a report declaring that no collusion occurred between Russia and the Trump campaign.
On first glance, this looks like good news for Trump: It’s one less investigation running into his campaign’s alleged Russia ties.
It also gave the President some favorable headlines, a relatively uncommon thing. And he didn’t even have to sit in a room with Chuck and Nancy or piss off the NRA in order to earn them.
But despite all this, the committee ending its probe is actually bad news for Trump long-term. The manner in which it was done, and the report issued by Chairman Devin Nunes, look to all but the fiercest Trump backers to be hackish and focused on giving Trump cover, as opposed to providing actual clarity and answers. Set aside whether you agree with Nunes or not; the probe looks at best incomplete, the report like the political equivalent of a half-researched term paper—a half-researched term paper that has really, really enraged already very-enraged Democrats.
The best illustration of this is the report’s conclusion that Russia showed no preference whatsoever for Trump, when it is manifestly clear that Russia did—even if not to the degree, for the full period, or for the reasons the most ardent Russia conspiracy theorists or Hillary Clinton defenders might claim.
That group includes both voters and people like Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the committee and a mainstay of cable news broadcasts nationwide. Pissing off your average DailyKos commenter may not matter much, but pissing off Schiff matters greatly. If Democrats retake the House this November—and the odds are they will—Schiff will take over Nunes’ job. Nunes and his colleagues just gave Schiff another huge, fat reason to aggressively investigate the entire topic of Trump and Russia on terms that will be far from neutral.
Not that Schiff would have failed to re-open the House Intelligence Committee probe anyway, but the actions of the majority, possibly excluding retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, have pissed off and energized already pissed off and energized Democrats, who will be responding to, and benefiting from, an even more pissed off and energized base if they succeed in winning.
Remember, a critical reason why Democrats will win, if they win, is the motivation of the party’s rabidly Trump-hating base to vote, volunteer, and donate—and therefore win elections even for centrist candidates who look more like Mitt Romney than Nancy Pelosi. Those people, of course, have wanted blood for a long time; in the wake of the closure of the Committee probe, and issuance of the Republican report, they’re baying for it even louder.
And Schiff, a longtime ally of the organs of government now collectively, and sometimes jokingly, referred to as the “Deep State,” wants it, too. Clearly, he sees the probe under Nunes as a sham. Clearly, he loves the limelight. Clearly, there’s political benefit in him aggressively investigating. Clearly, some of his key allies in government would love for him to do so, after all their hurt over Trump and his allies’ “Deep State” attacks.
So then clearly, if Schiff becomes chairman, he will hold a lot more hearings—with subpoena powers and a bigger staff—during which little further light may be shed on whether there was, or was not, collusion, but through which he can exact massive damage on Trump and anyone ever associated with or employed by him.
Legal fees. Embarrassing statements and events. Nasty little details concerning all manner of things, from the relatively mundane to the potentially important, becoming public. Contempt of Congress, perjury charges, or maybe evidence of dodgy financial or tax dealings. And that is assuming that no one other than the bad actors from Trump’s team already known to have been doing the bidding of Russia is outed as having looked out for Putin’s interests in 2016.
It will be ugly, and it will (further) hobble Trump’s ability to do basic things like staff his administration, which is key to even a modicum of governing. And without some modicum of governing, Trump could end up looking like a do-nothing impotent, even to some of his earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, when they thought they were voting for a tough guy, get-sh*t-done boss. That, in turn, might be when he starts looking like someone less worth appeasing to congressional Republicans, and more like someone worth replacing.
Yes, Schiff could overstep. Some Trump-neutral folks (yes, they exist) already feel he has, and has beclowned himself. There are others that could find hugely distasteful an aggressive investigation that catches junior staffers—the guys literally making the coffee, as opposed to the George Papadopouloses of the world—in the crosshairs. But in general, Congress investigating people doesn’t tend to work out well for the people being investigated, guilty or innocent. And that includes people not starting out with 37 percent approval ratings.
The bottom line is that Nunes may have put another nail in Trump’s political coffin. Yes, like something out of a classic horror film, the Trump presidency is a harder thing to kill off than Schiff & co would like—but Nunes might have handed Democrats a couple of crucifixes and cloves of garlic—all of which will likely soon be deployed.