Lawmakers demand FBI, White House records as Trump controversies grow
- Author: Elise Viebeck, Sean Sullivan, Mike Debonis, The Washington Post
- Updated: 15 hours ago
- Published 1 day ago
President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he addresses the graduating class of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy during commencement ceremonies in New London, Connecticut, May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON Congressional Republicans are increasing pressure on the administration to produce records related to the latest string of controversies involving President Donald Trump, amid flagging confidence in the White House and a growing sense that scandal is overtaking the presidency. As the White House sought to contain the damage from two major scandals, leaders of two key Senate committees asked the FBI for documents related to former director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before Trump fired him last week. The Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees asked the FBI to hand over Comey’s notes about his communications with the White House and senior Justice Department officials related to the Russia investigation.
The Judiciary Committee leaders also asked the White House to provide any records of interactions between Trump officials and Comey, including audio recordings. In a nod to lawmakers’ strong desire to hear from the former director, the Intelligence Committee leaders asked him to testify in both open and closed sessions. Meanwhile, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday about whether Trump interfered in the FBI’s investigation and invited Comey to testify. The requests came after news reports revealed Trump’s disclosure of highly classified material to Russian officials and an alleged attempt to shut down an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate on Comey’s firing.
On Wednesday, some members of the GOP began predicting that the party will rally behind some sort of independent investigative body to probe the two issues. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, said Wednesday that the collective political fallout from the past week “will make it difficult” for Republicans to resist a change in approach. Dent said he does not like investigations by independent prosecutors because they “tend to take on a life of their own” and instead preferred an independent commission of outside experts.
“We may have to move in that direction,” Dent said Wednesday at a forum moderated by Center Forward, a moderate Democratic organization.
The collision of the two stories Tuesday night left Republicans reeling, with a senior GOP senator comparing the situation to Watergate, and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., directing the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to immediately seek records from the FBI.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the press about President Donald Trump, former FBI Director James Comey and Russia investigations in Washington, May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Ryan was careful to strike an evenhanded tone Wednesday, saying congressional committees would continue to conduct oversight “regardless of what party is in the White House” but seeming to dismiss some concerns that have arisen in the wake of news about a memo written by Comey, suggesting that Trump had pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation.
“There’s clearly a lot of politics being played here,” Ryan said. He noted FBI acting director Andrew McCabe’s recent comment that there has been “no effort to impede our investigation.” McCabe made the remark in a congressional hearing when asked whether the firing of Comey had affected the bureau’s work. Ryan also sounded a skeptical note about Comey’s actions after the meeting in which Trump allegedly asked him to “let this go,” referring to the Flynn probe.
“If this happened as he described, why didn’t [Comey] take action at the time?” Ryan said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not directly commented on allegations that Trump tried to pressure Comey. He did not mention the president or the controversies facing the White House during his morning remarks on the Senate floor and ignored questions from reporters in the halls of the Capitol. As they pleaded for more information from the White House, lawmakers from both parties rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unusual offer Wednesday morning to provide a record of the meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump shared the classified information.
“The idea that we would accept any evidence from President Putin is absurd,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in an interview with CNN.
“I don’t talk to murderous dictators like Vladimir Putin, so Putin’s word to me doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Republican leadership, told the network.
“Probably the last person the president needs to vouch for him right now is Vladimir Putin,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with CBS News. “Its credibility would be less than zero.” Concerns about Trump are clearly growing among Republican lawmakers. On Tuesday night, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., compared the current situation to the Watergate scandal while speaking at an International Republican Institute dinner.
“We’ve seen this movie before. I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen,” McCain told Bob Schieffer of CBS News. “It’s a centipede, and the shoe continues to drop.”
Asked Wednesday whether the imbroglio could lead to impeachment, McCain responded: “I have no idea on that come on.”
The senator’s spokeswoman, Julie Tarallo, said the comparison was “simply meant to convey that the constant revelations of events surrounding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election are reminiscent of past scandals, are not good for America, and require further scrutiny.”
When asked what he’d say to Trump, McCain replied: “Get it all out. It’s not going to be over until every aspect of it is thoroughly examined and the American people have made a judgment. And the longer you delay, the longer it’s going to last.”
Other Republican senators, while saying they need to review documents before making a final judgment, voiced doubts about Trump.
“There’s a lot here that’s really scary,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Wednesday morning in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “It’s obviously inappropriate for any president to be trying to interfere with an investigation.”
Collins, a member of the Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reissued calls Wednesday for the Justice Department to consider appointing a special prosecutor to probe Russia’s election interference. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., is calling for a Democrat to replace Comey as head of the FBI. Toomey believes “changes are needed at the White House,” spokesman Steve Kelly told The Washington Post in an email Wednesday. And one of two House Republicans to endorse an independent investigation of the Comey matter said that if the details reported this week are true, it could be grounds for impeaching Trump. “Yes,” replied Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a member of the Oversight Committee, when posed the question by a reporter.
The White House has been largely silent since The New York Times first reported on Trump’s alleged effort to end the Flynn investigation by pressuring Comey. Trump aides have not directly commented on the story and were absent from television shows starting Tuesday night, a notable difference from last week, when they blanketed the networks to defend Comey’s firing. Before the Times story broke, Trump aides had sought to tamp down the controversy over Trump sharing classified information with Russian officials. National security adviser H.R. McMaster called the action “wholly appropriate” to the conversation that occurred in the Oval Office. Both Republicans and Democrats have called on Trump, who has suggested that he records his conversations, to provide a transcript of the meeting to congressional intelligence committees so they can assess what took place.
White House aides have neither confirmed nor denied the possibility that Trump keeps tapes of his meetings. Democrats blasted House Republicans on Wednesday for doing little to probe Trump’s potential ties to Russia.
“They do as little as humanly possible just to claim that they’re doing something,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee.
“Our committee should already be conducting robust and transparent investigations,” said Cummings, who joined 32 other Democrats on Tuesday night in calling for his panel to partner with the Judiciary Committee on a new probe of Trump’s White House.
“Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero zero, zero appetite,” the Democrat said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) accompanied by, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA,) Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), speaks about recent revelations about President Donald Trump s involvement with Russia on Capitol Hill , May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Democrats’ priority is advancing a bill from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., creating a bipartisan congressional commission to investigate Russia’s cyberintrusions, how the intelligence community handled the matter and the president’s potential involvement. The Democrats are hoping to file a discharge petition which requires the signatures of a majority of all House members to compel GOP leaders to schedule a vote on the proposal. But they could have trouble gathering enough support: As of Wednesday, The Post found only five GOP senators and 10 House Republicans open to some kind of independent investigation.
While several Democrats have called for Trump to be impeached over the Comey firing, the party’s leaders reiterated that their priority was a special investigation. Schiff cautioned that hasty talk of impeachment would distract from the need for a bipartisan probe and mire the investigation in partisanship.
“It cannot be perceived as an effort to nullify the election by other means,” he said. Some rank-and-file Republicans dismissed the controversies out of hand.
“It’s being made a bigger deal than what it is,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said, maintaining that leaks to the media were a more serious matter.
Trump “doesn’t fit the model of a typical politician, and that’s what the real issue is here. He’s a business guy, and he wants to get things done.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., also was unperturbed by the latest reports. Back in Alabama, he said, there is “a lot of frustration that they’re not allowing him to do his job.”
“So far I have not seen anything that’s that alarming,” Aderholt said.
The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, Karoun Demirjian, Carol Leonnig, Ed O’Keefe, Amber Phillips, Kelsey Snell and David Weigel contributed to this report.