WASHINGTON — Just as Robert Mueller’s report created a roadmap for Democrats, Republicans have their own plans to weaponize it for Trump: by putting the origins of the investigation and the Obama administration on trial.
Even as the redacted version of the Mueller report documented some 10 instances where Trump potentially obstructed justice, as well as dozens of contacts between Russian operatives, trolls or compromised individuals, many Republicans are once again doubling down on their contention that the real culprit is Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in the 2016 election and is now a private citizen.
“Certainly a thorough investigation that looks at wrongdoing and how we can make sure that bias is not remotely involved in investigative decisions for anyone is appropriate,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has Trump’s ear as the head of the House Freedom Caucus, texted VICE News as he was on a plane.
While Democrats now run the House, Republicans still control all the gavels in the Senate. And Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a one-time moderate, has become as Trumpian as anyone, particularly as his re-election campaign is in full swing.
Graham recently told VICE News he’s preparing to investigate the FBI, DOJ and other sources in order to look into the underpinnings of the Mueller investigation, and Trump's conservative media machine has been raising completely unfounded questions — even conspiracies — for months.
That’s why rank-and-file Republicans are now pushing Graham to investigate the origins of the investigation, particularly since the Mueller report discredits the so-called Steele dossier, a salacious account of prostitutes and spies created by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and paid for by the Democratic National Committee.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla), a Trump ally, is among those asking the Senate to investigate “how political opposition research drafted by a foreign, known liar was able to fuel a weaponizing of our intelligence community against a rival campaign,” he said. “Also how the Trump campaign was never given a defensive briefing in a country intelligence investigation. They’ve never had a good answer for that.”
One former member of the House Oversight Committee famous for spearheading the Benghazi hearings, former Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, told VICE News it would be entirely appropriate to dig into skeletons from election years past.
“I think it’s fair to do it,” he said. “Congress doesn’t do legal investigations. Congress does political investigations.”
Issa spent much of the winter awaiting his likely Senate confirmation to become the director of America’s Trade Development Administration – a little-known arm of the American government that promotes trade abroad, but he’s still tuned in to politics enough to fully embrace Trump’s attorney general.
“The legal process has concluded,” Issa said. “I didn’t see the attorney general haul the former FBI director [James Comey] and others in to prosecute them for knowingly presenting to a FISA judge false and misleading information and causing him to issue excessive wiretap warrants.”
“For Democratic base voters — for the Resistance — they’re going to wonder why they elected a Democratic Congress that’s going to sit back and do nothing with this”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, says Barr’s claim that there was no evidence of collusion or conspiracy is laughable now that the full, if redacted, Mueller report has been sent to Congress.
“There was clear evidence, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt, but 200 pages of a multiplicity of contacts,” said Swalwell, who is widely viewed as a long-shot presidential candidate, told VICE News on a phone call from the campaign trail in New Hampshire. “I think he’s demonstrated that he’s acting as the president’s lawyer, not as America’s lawyer, and you can’t do both.”
But it’s deeper than just the politics of the day. Congress is currently on a two-week recess, a time when some members of Congress fan out across the globe to represent “American” ideals — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, spent a week in Ireland. But that’s harder these days, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who was in Armenia when the Mueller report was released.
“The day I’m meeting with the prime minister and members of Parliament who are showing such courage, I have to read a report about the president and his campaign team that dodged and ducked a criminal indictment about collusion, barely staying within the law, but clearly enticing and being receptive to Russian intelligence and interference in our 2016 election," Connolly said.
“That’s more than embarrassing being overseas. That’s deeply troubling and, and, I don’t know – somewhat mortifying,” Connolly said quasi to himself. “I mean, we’re the United States, we’re supposed to be a beacon of democratic ideals and we don’t engage in this kind of sordid behavior. Yet in the case of Trump, we did.”
The take-it-or-leave-it choices Washington often presents lawmakers may be off, though, at least according to a more old-school lawmaker who argues this political tit-for-tat from both sides of the political aisle isn’t merely bad for the nation but also potentially detrimental for both parties.
“This is going to be a dilemma for a lot of these members as to how they proceed,” former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chaired the House Oversight Committee until 2007, told VICE News.
Davis sees potential pitfalls ahead for both parties.
“For Democratic base voters — for the Resistance — they’re going to wonder why they elected a Democratic Congress that’s going to sit back and do nothing with this,” Davis said.
As for his home team (the GOP), Davis urges patience because the Inspector General’s office at the Department of Justice is conducting its own audit of the investigation.
“Let’s see what he finds. I wouldn’t do anything of a high-profile nature going after what happened in the Obama administration at this point,” Davis said. “I don’t know that the voters have any more tolerance for that than they would going after the president at this point.”
Cover: US President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One before departing from the White House in Washington, DC on April 18, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)