A few juicy notes to add to the Flynn/Russia story:
1. Tuesday’s post post was a rundown of how top Republicans in Congress (Republican leadership and Republicans who head the relevant committees) were responding when asked about launching investigations into the situation. As of yesterday afternoon, it was not very positive. They were either outright opposed to the idea, or they deflected and changed the subject. (There did however seem to be some movement in a positive direction from some other Republicans, such as Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham & Roy Blunt, and Congressman Justin Amash in the House).
Today I wanted to update with this comment Senator Rand Paul made Tuesday evening. Here’s what he said about the prospect of Congress conducting an investigation into the Flynn situation:
I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.
Even though Paul doesn’t hold a position of power over any potential investigations the way the members I discussed in Tuesday’s post do, I wanted to add his comment because I thought it was fascinating how nakedly he discusses the calculation he’s making into why Republicans shouldn’t provide oversight of Trump.
It seems quite clear that this is the same calculation the vast majority of his Republican colleagues have been making as well, not just in this case, but on all matters Trump-related up to this point. And in some small way, it’s understandable. They’re only human, and here they are finally in power, with the opportunity to implement the agenda they’ve dreamed about for years. Of course they want to grab it. But then you step back and look at the big picture and realize that on the other side of their calculation is our national security. You realize that the other side of that equation, the thing they’re weighing and discarding, is the safety and security of everyone in this country, including themselves & their families. And then you’re just absolutely stunned by the scandal of it all.
2. In an interview that came out shortly after Tuesday’s post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to indicate that he would be open to expanding the already ongoing Russia investigation in the Senate to include questions about General Flynn. So he wasn’t looking to start a new investigation, but the investigation that has already begun re the Russian hacking/election meddling could be broadened to cover the Flynn issue as well. This may be what Paul Ryan was trying to suggest at his press conference on Tuesday when he said the House was already looking into things (which I chided him for in Tuesday’s post).
3. The NY Times broke another story late Tuesday night with additional leaks from the intelligence community (IC), and this will likely put more pressure on Republicans to investigate Flynn and the broader Russia issue. At this point, it will probably be very hard for Republicans to continue avoiding it. The story that broke Tuesday night, if you haven’t caught it yet, is that the IC intercepted calls showing that several Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russia, throughout the course of the campaign.
This discovery was made at around the same time that the IC discovered Russia was trying to hack the DNC. However, so far they have not found any evidence that there was collusion between these Trump aides and Russia in those efforts. One of the aides intercepted in the calls was Trump’s one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort. The others were not named by the Times.
CNN later posted additional reporting on the story, which called the contacts between the Trump aides and Russia “constant” and said that red flags were raised at the FBI because of the frequency of the contacts and because of the proximity to Trump of the people involved. The CNN report also says that those involved were both campaign aides and people associated with Trump businesses.
Even though the stories made it clear that no evidence has been found thus far linking these aides to any illegal activity, this new information certainly adds to the growing questions, and it will become more and more untenable for Republicans to argue that we shouldn’t try to get some answers.
Updating to add this note about investigations: While developing circumstances may push Republicans to conduct investigations into Flynn/Russia, have a bit of skepticism about this. These may well be thorough investigations that turn over every stone. But they might also just be time killers intended to give the appearance of oversight. Keep in mind that these investigations will be controlled by Republicans, and the relevant committees are all headed by Trump-friendly chairmen, so the investigations will only be as effective as they want them to be. We will have real progress if the GOP gets pushed to allow an independent investigation (done outside of Congress by independent experts). But it is a step if they’re at least forced to acknowledge there’s something here that needs to be looked at