Now that Congress has held its very first hearing on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, one thing is strikingly clear: Americans need a truly independent investigation more than ever, for the president’s party will not refrain from tainting the work of these committees through partisan spin and hackery.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, who steered the Benghazi special committee for over 700 days in a bid to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, clearly sees more value in trying to plug leaks than in helping the American public understand Russian election interference against Clinton. When it was his turn to ask questions at today’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, Gowdy focused on whether reporters should be prosecuted for publishing those leaks.
“Is there an exception in the law for current or former U.S. officials requesting anonymity?” Gowdy asked FBI Director James Comey about laws against unauthorized dissemination of classified information. “Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?”
Comey refused to give a firm answer, but he did point out that Gowdy was asking about something unprecedented in US law. “I don’t think a reporter’s been prosecuted, certainly in my lifetime,” Comey replied.
“Well, there have been a lot of statutes at bar in this investigation for which no one’s ever been prosecuted or convicted,” Gowdy pressed, “and that does not keep people from discussing those statutes, namely, the Logan Act.” He then asked Comey questions designed to frame reporting on the existence of classified transcripts as the continuation of a crime — all without even mentioning Michael Flynn.
So what if the president knowingly gave the most sensitive national security job in the White House to a paid foreign agent, winking as Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador weeks before the inauguration? To Gowdy, the only real scandal here is that someone told the Washington Post and the New York Times about Flynn’s potential treason. No smoking gun to see here, people — move along now!
Comey testified today that the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation of the Donald Trump campaign since July of 2016. That’s a very short period of time as far as counterintelligence investigations go, but it is an epoch ago in political time. Rather than work to clarify matters, however, leading Republicans are obscuring the truth beneath layers of political accusations.
Rep. Devin Nunes served on Donald Trump’s transition team and pronounced the issue of collusion closed before the committee’s investigation had even begun, calling the scandal “McCarthyism.” Today, he made a bizarre attempt to deflect the entire story back onto Clinton in a way that Joseph McCarthy would have surely admired.
“If this committee — or anyone else for that matter, someone from the public — comes with information to you about the Hillary Clinton campaign or their associates or someone from the Clinton Foundation, will you add that to your investigation?” He asked. Unsatisfied with Comey’s answer, Nunes continued: “Do you think it’s possible that the Russians would not be trying to infiltrate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, get information on Hillary Clinton, and try to get people around that campaign or the Clinton Foundation?”
Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever for those statements, which seem inspired by Trump’s demented tweetstorm this morning. Like Trump’s wild accusations of illegal wiretapping, this argument is just guilty posturing.
What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
Congressional Republicans clearly benefited from Russian hacking of the Democratic Party, so they understandably hope to avoid facing any consequences for what seems increasingly likely to be conscious collusion between the candidate and foreign intelligence services. That desperation is being expressed in their obtuse questions and blinking incomprehension of basic facts. They see no evil, hear no evil, and denounce all talk of evil as evil itself.
Excruciating: Comey tries to explain to a Republican that if Putin wanted Clinton to lose, he wanted Trump to win pic.twitter.com/QtqzKi6dR6
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 20, 2017
House and Senate committees will not suffice for the American people. We must demand a full, impartial investigation, carried out in the public eye by people who are not beholden to Donald Trump. It’s the least we deserve.
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