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A House Republican now wants a special prosecutor on the Trump-Russia scandals

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Rep. Darrell Issa at a hearing on Ebola in 2014. The former Oversight Committee chair now wants an independent investigation into Trump and Russia.
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Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who bedeviled the Obama administration with inquiries into Benghazi and the IRS, thinks the alleged ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia are worth investigating — and wants a special prosecutor to do it.

His remarks on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher Friday broke with the party line from the House GOP, which has been reluctant to call for aggressive investigations into Trump.

“We’re going to ask the intelligence committees of the House and Senate to investigate within the special areas they oversee,” Issa said. Maher interjected that that wasn’t enough — Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself and appoint an independent prosecutor.

Then Issa agreed: “You’re right,” he said. “You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who was an appointee. You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office.”

Issa’s comments begin at the 6:00 mark below:

Issa went on to call Vladimir Putin and the Russian government “bad people,” rhetoric sharply different from that of President Trump: “This is a bad guy who murders people, who runs a gas station with an economy the size of Italy, but is screwing things up all over the world,” he said. “We have to work with them; we don’t have to trust them.”

There are good political reasons for Issa to distance himself from Trump. But his remarks were the first sign that House Republicans might end up facing pressure from within their caucus to open investigations into the alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Issa is worrying about getting reelected

Issa, who was chair of the House Oversight Committee from 2011 until 2015, won reelection easily for his first several terms in Congress. But now he could be the most vulnerable Republican in the House.

The 2016 race in his Southern California district was so close that it wasn’t called until nearly three weeks after Election Day. Issa eventually won with a margin of fewer than 2,000 votes — half a percentage point. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump among voters in Issa’s district.

All this means that Issa (along with the 22 other Republicans who also represent districts Clinton carried) has good reason to distance himself from the Trump administration.

Still, his remarks set him apart from most of the House Republican caucus, which has been reluctant to endorse an aggressive, independent investigation of the various scandals involving the Trump administration and Russia.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, and some Senate Republicans have called for a bipartisan investigation, which would give Democrats more ability to issue subpoenas. House Republicans, on the other hand, have generally rejected calls for independent investigations. Issa, at least, doesn’t seem to find that a politically tenable position. What matters now is if other Republicans follow suit.

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