The divide between Republicans and Democrats could not have been more obvious during yesterday’s hearing by the House Intelligence Committee (officially known as the United States Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence). It is important to note from the beginning that the chairman of the committee, Representative Devin Nunes (R CA) is not just a member of the same party as the people being investigated, i.e., Donald Trump and members of his campaign/administration.
Chairman Nunes also served as a member of the Trump White House transition team.
His ties to the current administration are strong, and leave many wondering if he can dispassionately investigate the Trump Administration.
The Democrats on the Committee were led by Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D CA). As the minority party, they were expected to go on the attack regarding the links between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And they fulfilled this role in their questioning of FBI Director James Comey and the Director of the National Security Council Admiral Mike Rogers.
But instead of pursuing possible collusion between a Republican campaign and the government of our number one adversary in the world, the Republican members focused solely on the leaks to the media that led to the need to investigate these ties.
Congressman Trey Gowdy (R.SC) of the Benghazi Hearings fame, had the audacity to ask Director Comey if reporters who publish these leaks should be jailed. Was this a not-so-veiled threat against members of the press? Perhaps Mr. Gowdy might want to read up on the Pentagon Papers. Assuming his previous persona as a district attorney, Gowdy also tried to suggest that the limits in courtrooms, such as hearsay, should also apply to an investigation of national security threats.
Trey Gowdy ought to return to his appearances on Forensic Files. He made more sense then and his hair looked much better.
However, none of the efforts by Nunes and Gowdy could deflect from two bombshell announcements by Director Comey.
The first was that the FBI and the entire Justice Department could find no evidence whatsoever to support Donald Trump’s claims on Twitter that his predecessor had illegally wiretapped his campaign before and after the election. In other words, Donald Trump lied to the American people when he made these outrageous accusations.
The second, more devastating bombshell, occurred when Comey confirmed, in public, that the FBI is pursuing a criminal investigation that involves at least one person in the White House.
In a further blow to the administration, Admiral Mike Rogers vehemently denied Sean Spicer’s claim that the Obama Administration asked the British government to spy on Trump and his campaign. Despite the testimony of Comey and Rogers, the White House is circling the wagons and has, to date, refused to retract their allegations. The so-called “apology” to Great Britain was, in fact, a promise by Sean Spicer that they wouldn’t do it again.
It then transpired, in what is a first for any congressional hearing ever, that Donald Trump, using his official @POTUS account, began live tweeting his spin on the testimony being given. Committee members, reading these tweets, were fact-checking the president DURING the hearing.
Equally bizarre events occurred after the conclusion of the testimony. David Corn, noted reporter and Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones sent out the following tweet:
Nunes just told me he's never heard of Carter Page or Roger Stone. And he's in charge of the investigation?
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) March 20, 2017
Seriously? Perhaps if Nunes were a freshman congressman from Eastaboga, Alabama, there might be an excuse for this. But he is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he was a member of the White House transition team. And he has never even heard of Carter Page or Roger Stone? Come on. Pull the other one.
Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, held a press briefing during the hearings trying to limit the fallout. He only succeeded in making it worse.
He stated that Paul Manafort, who was brought on to replace Corey Lewandowski as the Campaign Manager, had “a very limited role for a very limited time.” That’s like saying that since Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season he had “a very limited role for a very limited time” with the New England Patriots. He also referred to General Michael Flynn as a “campaign volunteer.” General Flynn was so much more than that. He was not manning phone banks or handling out campaign leaflets, he was advising Donald Trump on national security.
Significantly both of the men Spicer referenced in his press conference had resigned, under a cloud, because of their links to the Russian government.
Gallup Polls released on Monday before this hearing showed that Donald Trump’s approval rating had dropped to 37 percent. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley was quoted in The Washington Post on Trump “This is the most failed 100 days of any president.” [Note: this was Day 60 of Trump’s presidency] He further said “To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don’t know how it can get much worse.”
It can get much worse. John Dean, Counsel to Richard Nixon during Watergate, has pointed out time and again, that it was the cover-up, not the crime, that led to Nixon’s downfall. It may be too soon to be talking about impeachment. But then again, it may not be soon enough.