On Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee ended its investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election over the objections of Committee Democrats. The Republicans said there was no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia – and rejected an official U.S. intelligence-community determination that Russian President Vladimir Putin exhibited a “preference” for Trump during the election. Nothing to see here, folks.
Of course, Republicans on the Committee refused to interview Paul Manafort, chair of the Trump campaign; Rick Gates, the former number two in the campaign; Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn; or George Papadopoulos, Trump campaign foreign policy advisor. Manafort has been indicted by Special Counsel Mueller in his Russia investigation and the other three have pled guilty to charges brought by Mueller.
Democrats on the Committee said the Republicans refused to allow a total of 45 witnesses to be interviewed and refused to subpoena Trump administration witnesses who would not answer key questions. Even some Republicans were critical.
That wasn’t all regarding Russia. Earlier, on March 4, Sergei Skripal, a Russian defense intelligence officer who spied for Britain, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a deadly Russian nerve agent in Salisbury, England. The White House refused to acknowledge Russia’s involvement. Then this past Monday Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, called the attack an “egregious act” and said it “clearly” came from Russia. The following morning Trump fired Tillerson by tweet. Trump didn’t bother to tell Tillerson in advance. Because all Presidents fire their Secretaries of State by tweet.
Trump’s replacement for Tillerson, CIA director Mike Pompeo, is much more militaristic than Tillerson. That does not bode well for avoiding military action against North Korea or maintaining the agreement with the Iranians that is stopping them from proceeding with their nuclear program.
And who would replace Pompeo at the CIA? Gina Haspel, who oversaw the waterboarding torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a secret prison in Thailand and who later ordered the destruction of videotapes of waterboarding despite a federal court order to turn over the tapes.
On Tuesday evening, Democrat Conor Lamb won a U.S. House seat in a special election by less than 1,000 votes in a Pennsylvania district that voted for Trump by a margin of 20 percentage points in the 2016 elections. It bodes well for the Democrats winning a majority of the House in the 2018 elections and resurrecting the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation. Republicans spent nearly three times as much money as the Democrats in this special election. The Republicans tried campaigning on the recent tax-cut bill, on opposing Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, on Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, and on accusations that Lamb was pro immigrant. None of it worked.
As the week continued, the pressure regarding Russia became too great, even for Trump. So, on Thursday, a month and a half after Trump said no sanctions were needed, Trump finally issued perhaps the most minimal sanctions he could against individual Russians regarding their 2016 interference in the U.S. elections. He also finally admitted that the Russians were responsible for the nerve-agent attack.
Also on Thursday, we learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed business records of the Trump organization for the first time, including some concerning its dealings with Russia. Last July Trump said that if Mueller examined Trump’s finances outside of Russia Mueller would be crossing “a red line” and would have to go.
Today, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to terminate Mueller’s investigation.
Late Friday Trump fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, just two days before McCabe was slated to retire with a pension after working more than 20 years for the FBI. Trump termed it a “great day for democracy.” That’s one way to put it. Trump and his allies have for months criticized McCabe, in part because his wife ran and lost a Democratic state legislative campaign in 2015.
Former CIA Director John Brennan blasted Trump, saying that Trump had made McCabe a “scapegoat” and calling Trump a “demagogue” who is trying to destroy America.
McCabe said that he was fired because of “the events I witnessed in the aftermath of [Trump’s] firing of [former FBI director] James Comey.” His own firing, McCabe said, was part of an effort to slander him and “part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation”.
McCabe was one of the first at the FBI to scrutinize potential Trump campaign ties to Russia and can also corroborate Comey’s testimony. McCabe has obtained an attorney to deal with his firing – depositions about how Trump was involved in the firing should be interesting — and apparently has personal memos regarding Trump. Those could be of great use to Mueller’s investigation, assuming it continues.