House Democrats aren’t the only ones eager for more investigations, it turns out.
Senate Republicans, broadly satisfied that Attorney General Bill Barr’s readout of conclusions from the Mueller report has vindicated President Donald Trump, are now eager to go on the offensive and launch a few investigations of their own.
As Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham laid out on Monday, Republicans are interested in getting a better handle on the “other side of the story,” including, namely, whether the FBI and the Department of Justice engaged in efforts that hurt the Trump campaign in 2016.
Graham proposed appointing another special counsel in order to review why the FBI made certain decisions, such as its use of a FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
“When it comes to the FISA warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation, it’s pretty much been swept under the rug except by a few Republicans in the House. Those days are over,” Graham said during a Monday press conference.
The South Carolina senator, one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, may have offered especially vehement remarks advocating for investigating the law enforcement agency and its efforts, but he’s far from the only Republican interested in pursuing such reviews.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), also a member of the Judiciary Committee, was one of several lawmakers to come out with a full-throated endorsement of Graham’s recommendations.
Several weeks ago, I asked the FBI for answers on its counterintelligence probe of @realDonaldTrump. I haven’t gotten any answers. So for starters, I will wholeheartedly support @LindseyGrahamSC call for special counsel and believe it should include FBI— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 25, 2019
In addition to examining the way the FBI acted toward the Trump campaign in 2016, Republicans indicated that they have questions on a whole slate of matters centering on why the special counsel probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia began in the first place. They also blocked a move from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for Mueller’s report to be made public (a similar resolution passed with bipartisan support in the House last week).
“I certainly think that all the events that led up to the investigation merit some inquiry to see how do you get to a point, based on what appear to be loose threads of evidence, you trigger this hysteria that has captured the country for the last two years,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Vox.
Rather than simply accepting the results of the Mueller report and moving on to other legislative priorities, Republicans seem determined to capitalize on this momentum to call out what they see as potentially unfair treatment toward the Trump campaign and administration.
Now that the so-called “cloud” has been lifted from Trump, they’re eager to reclaim some of this attention for their own political purposes. In short, they’re ready for some payback.
Republicans want to shift the focus back to Hillary Clinton
As Graham broke down exactly what he was interested in investigating, it’s clear that Republicans want to refocus the attention on one of their favorite targets: Hillary Clinton.
Graham offered up a laundry list of questions he’s interested in examining, including how the FBI reviewed Clinton’s emails, the impact of potential anti-Trump sentiment in the agency, and the broader role the FBI and DOJ may have played in harming Trump’s electoral chances.
“What makes no sense to me is all the abuse by the Department of Justice and the FBI, the unprofessional conduct, the shady behavior,” Graham said. “Nobody seems to think that’s much important. Well, that’s going to change, I hope. I’ve been calling since the end of 2017 for a special counsel to be appointed to look at whether or not the FISA warrant process was abused for political purposes, whether or not a counterintelligence investigation was opened up regarding the Trump campaign as a back door to spy on the campaign.”
Many of Graham’s outstanding queries appeared tied to how then-FBI Director James Comey handled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as well as the role that a dossier from former British spy Christopher Steele played in the agency’s scrutiny of the Trump campaign. This dossier contained information alleging a conspiracy between Trump and the Russian government.
“What was the conflict that made [then-Attorney General] Loretta Lynch so unable to preside over the Clinton email investigation? Was it just a tarmac meeting, or was it more? I believe there was more there, and I intend to get to there,” Graham said.
Under the assumption that Trump has effectively been cleared by the Mueller report, Graham is pushing for the same scrutiny to be applied to the way law enforcement agencies treated the Clinton campaign. Republicans surely know that while this has an appearance of fairness, it has the added benefit of putting “Hillary Clinton” and “emails” back in the news.
As part of their apparent victory lap, it’s clear that they simply want Democrats to feel the pressure.
There are a couple of ways these investigations could play out
Graham had indicated that he’s interested in setting up a series of Judiciary hearings that would include testimony from the likes of former FBI Director James Comey and former DOJ official Bruce Ohr, something Hawley said he supported as well.
And it’s time for oversight hearings. Under oath, in full public view. With subpoenas, if agencies continue to stonewall. This is a democracy and we’re going to keep it that way— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 25, 2019
While Graham argued that another special counsel would be needed to review some of the concerns he raised, not all Republicans were necessarily interested in going that route again.
“I’m not really enthused about getting a second special counsel,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Vox. “We have an attorney general who can spearhead any questions that we might have.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, suggested that it’s possible the president could direct key agencies to declassify information from investigations tied to the 2016 election as a next step as well.
“Some of the [people in the FBI] acted against Trump, and some of them acted against Clinton, and that’s wrong,” he said. “And I’d like to see the president declassify everything. Will that be enough to satisfy the members of the crank wings? I don’t know.”
Graham had said he was interested in moving forward with such efforts in a bipartisan way, though Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told reporters on Monday that she didn’t quite “understand” why he was pursuing these reviews.
Several congressional Republicans have argued that Democrats should “move on” from their focus on the Mueller investigation and the 2016 election now that the report has been completed. Many Republicans, it seems, haven’t yet moved on themselves.