Dispatch January 18, 2019

Congressional Republicans’ Dereliction of Duty

The New York Times’s report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether President Donald Trump was acting as a Russian agent raises the prospect that the president may be a clear and present danger to US national security.

It wasn’t just the FBI investigating—both the House and Senate intelligence committees opened investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia. But over the past two years, instead of trying to protect our national security, Republicans in Congress worked hard to undermine US law enforcement and protect Trump at all costs. They have been derelict in upholding their duty to protect the Constitution and the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Even now, as evidence of collusion mounts, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to stop the Trump administration from weakening sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with a long history of advancing Kremlin interests abroad—often in association with Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee may boycott reopening the investigation they prematurely closed. Whose interests are they representing?

Under former Trump transition official Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation was a cover-up from the very beginning.

  • Rather than investigating the Trump campaign’s extensive ties to Russia, Nunes chased after leaks, relitigated debunked anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, and ran interference on behalf of the White House.
  • Even as Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team uncovered more evidence of collusion, the Republican members of the House intelligence committee cut their investigation short, baselessly undermining the intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia sought to help Trump in 2016. At the time, they had failed to obtain full testimony from individuals involved in 81 percent of the Trump campaign’s known contacts with Russia—a number that has only grown as the contact count has risen to more than 100.

Senator Richard Burr, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also failed to thoroughly investigate the president’s ties to Russia.

Congressional failure comes straight from the top: GOP leadership is all in on protecting Trump.

  • Mitch McConnell stood in the way of efforts to condemn Russian interference during the campaign and has since steadfastly refused to bring to the floor bills that would protect Mueller from interference. In one of the first moves of the 116th Congress, he voted to weaken sanctions on a Russian oligarch involved in interfering in our democracy.
  • Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan could have stopped Nunes’s attacks on the investigation—not to mention those of other caucus members like Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows—and repeatedly chose not to do so. Ryan repeatedly backed Nunes in his showdowns with the Justice Department when he sought to selectively release classified information, most famously in the “Nunes Memo.”
  • There’s no reason to believe the new House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who in 2016 joked behind closed doors that Trump and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher were on Putin’s payroll then backed them anyway, will change his predecessor’s course. McCarthy this week indicated that House Republicans would boycott reopening the intelligence committee investigation.

Republicans may no longer control both houses of Congress, but they’re still defending a suspected Russian agent every chance they get.

  • Oklahoma Senator James Lankford dismissed news that Trump’s campaign chairman shared polling data with an accused Russian intelligence operative as inconsequential because Manafort knew the operative before the campaign.
  • Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson shrugged off Trump’s reported attempts to conceal the details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “unorthodox” rather than a threat to national security.
  • Newly-elected Missouri Senator Josh Hawley seems to think reports that the FBI investigated Trump as a potential Russian agent reflect poorly on the FBI, not the president whose behavior prompted the investigation.

Whether the president is loyal to the American people or to a hostile foreign country engaged in an ongoing attack on our democracy is the most urgent question facing the country. Congressional Republicans were derelict in their duty to protect the nation. Addressing this question is not just the responsibility of law enforcement; it is also fundamentally the responsibility of Congress—and they must act.