By Brian Goldsmith
The drip-drip-drip of Trump-Russia news has turned into a daily deluge. Not only is it difficult to keep up with the charges and countercharges, it’s also hard to stay current with who’s investigating whom. So here’s a look at who’s looking at Trump.
First is Congress. There are at least four investigations there, all run by Republicans because they’re in control of the House and Senate. There’s the Senate intelligence committee, the House Intel committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Why are there so many committees? Well, they each have different roles. The Senate intelligence panel is looking broadly at Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s campaign as well as the Trump team’s connections to the Kremlin. It’s trying to conduct a dignified, bipartisan process.
The House intelligence inquiry is focused on the same issues, but it’s been a mess. The Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, had to recuse himself because he seemed too cozy with the White House. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., compared Nunes to the clumsy Inspector Clouseau. The entire endeavor has been overshadowed by partisanship.
Then there’s the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate’s “legal eagles,” who oversee federal law enforcement. That panel, as well as the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which makes sure federal agencies are doing their jobs, started investigating the guy who ran the National Security Council, Michael Flynn, and his connections to Russia.
Flynn had been sacked by the president, and when FBI Director James Comey also got a pink slip, these committees decided they’d better investigate that too. There’s a lot of speculation that Comey was fired because the president didn’t like the FBI’s probe into Russia’s election meddling. Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt, “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ”
The FBI investigation is ongoing, but now there’s a bigger, broader one at the Justice Department, and Bob Mueller, a former FBI director, is in charge of it. His title is special counsel, and he was picked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after AG Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself because of questions about his contacts with the Russians. Mueller, who everybody believes has integrity, has been given broad authority to look at “any links” or “coordination between the Russian government and individuals” in the Trump campaign. The average length of special counsel investigations is more than three years. So it’s likely the congressional probes will wrap up first.
Another important difference: The Mueller investigation could lead to criminal charges. Members of the House and Senate committees can’t charge anyone with a crime, but they could lead to impeachment hearings if it comes out that the president and the Russians were in cahoots.
But remember: If a president is impeached by the House, as Bill Clinton was, he’s removed from office only if a supermajority of the Senate votes to convict.
Who knows how all of this will shake out? There are enough people looking at these connections between the Trump inner circle and the Kremlin. But when you hear about all the investigations — and the people who are running them — at least you can say, “Now I get it.”