Over the last two years, no member of congress has been a more committed enabler of Donald Trump than Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Some of his actions even raised the question of whether he should be investigated for obstruction of justice when it comes to the Trump-Russia probe.
But in a powerful testament to the fact that elections matter, the new Democratic majority in the House means that there is a new sheriff in town. Rep. Adam Schiff is now the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and on Wednesday, released his plans for the scope of a newly invigorated investigation. Here are the lines of inquiry Schiff plans to pursue with the committee:
(1) The scope and scale of the Russian government’s operations to influence the U.S. political process, and the U.S. government’s response, during and since the 2016 election;
(2) The extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, or related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests;
(3) Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates;
(4) Whether President Trump, his family, or his associates are or were at any time at heightened risk of, or vulnerable to, foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy in service of foreign interests; and
(5) Whether any actors – foreign or domestic – sought or are seeking to impede, obstruct, and/or mislead authorized investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.
To get an idea of Schiff’s starting point, he included this statement:
In the more than two years since the Intelligence Community released its assessment of Russia’s malign influence operation targeting the 2016 U.S. elections, much has been learned about the scope and scale of Russia’s attack on our democracy, including how covert and overt Russian activities intersected with individuals associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, transition, administration, and business interests, including the Trump Organization. It is now known that, from late 2015 through early 2017, individuals close to Donald Trump engaged in a significant number of contacts with an array of individuals connected to, or working on behalf of, the Russian government, and that several of these contacts involved efforts to acquire and disseminate damaging information about Hillary Clinton and her campaign, or related to Russia’s desired relief from U.S. sanctions.
After two years of obfuscation and diversion, it is refreshing to see such clarity.
The truth is that no one is particularly surprised that Schiff is heading in this direction with the House investigation. What did catch a lot of people’s attention were the third and forth bullet points above about foreign governments potentially holding leverage over Trump, his family, or associates. That opens the door to investigate things like potential influence from countries like Saudi Arabia and this portion of the Steele dossier.
That line of inquiry has always evoked the strongest reaction from the president. You might remember that early on, Trump told the New York Times that Mueller would cross a “red line” if his probe reached into the president’s business and his family’s financial dealings.
Right on cue, that is exactly what Trump reacted to from Schiff’s statement.
That is also why the Trump administration is gearing up to fight the release of his tax returns. All of that is what led to the president’s not-so-veiled threat in his State of the Union address: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
With Rep. Schiff at the helm of the House Intelligence Committee and Mueller’s relentless probe, the pressures will continue to mount on the man in the White House who has already demonstrated that he is mentally unbalanced. As Democrats line up to challenge this president in 2020, that will be the backdrop over the next two years.