Following Michael Flynn's resignation and reports that members of Donald Trump's campaign communicated heavily with Russian officials, Wednesday brought an onslaught of statements from politicians with the power to look into Trump and Russia. Note: Those politicians with the power to investigate Trump are all Republicans.
Here's how this works: Multiple Senate committees have said they are investigating the impacts of hacking by the Russians before the U.S. election. It is widely accepted the Russians were hacking to help Trump. It is not accepted or proven that Trump asked for, or worked in alignment with, Russian intervention. To determine the degree of involvement by Trump and his campaign, Democrats are calling for a wider, independent inquiry. That group could have the power to subpoena people and information, like Trump's tax returns, to determine whether the president has any improper ties with Russia.
But for a broader inquiry to take place, Republicans (likely in the Senate) would have to act. That is not going to happen, at least for now. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate does not need a special committee to investigate Russia — "But we are going to look at Russian involvement in the U.S. election." Consider this: That inquiry into Russian hacking was announced weeks ago, so McConnell's comments are nothing new. And promising to investigate hacking is not the same as looking into ties between Trump and Russia. McConnell did not support a new inquiry into Flynn, though other Republican senators have said they will investigate communications between Flynn and Russia. But the GOP has yet to say it will specifically dig into the latest reports about the president and Russia. Instead, they've held the line that existing groups of senators and representatives can investigate Russian hacking.
Republicans seem set to go the other direction. In the House, Paul Ryan said he does not support an independent inquiry on Russia. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is calling for an investigation into the source of leaks fueling media stories, even though the sources may be political and not from the intelligence community.
The distinction between a committee investigation and an independent inquiry is arcane, but important. An investigation by an existing congressional committee can dig deep, but often only behind closed doors. An independent "select committee" — like the Republicans put together to investigate the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi — however, can conduct its work in the open, subpoena information and compel people to face public questioning.
Fearful they would lose whatever momentum they have for any investigation, top Democrats even backed off calls for a special inquiry on Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday morning that Democrats will demand these committee investigations find all the information relevant to Trump and Russia. And if they don't, Schumer said, Democrats will seek alternatives.
The politics of this are fairly elementary. Six weeks into a new Congress and nearly a month into Trump's tenure, Republicans have accomplished little of their legislative agenda. There is still no coherent path forward on the Affordable Care Act. Frustration with the Russia story is already at a max among members of the GOP. And taking on Trump specifically could blow up what working relationship is left between the White House and Congress.
Continue to monitor the moves of congressional leadership, especially McConnell, as the committee investigations move forward.
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Eric Holder: "The American people are entitled to know exactly what happened."
In an exclusive interview with Mic, former Attorney General Eric Holder said there must be an independent investigation into potential connections between Trump and Russia. "I think we have the makings of potentially a scandal, certainly a controversy, the likes of which we have not seen for many years," he said.
Holder spoke with Mic in Atlanta before a panel discussion on race. Barack Obama's attorney general, known for combating attacks on voting rights at the state level, expressed deep concern about hate and racism he sees spreading in the U.S. "I think that something has been loosed in our country that gives me great concern," Holder said.
Read more and watch the interview with Mic's Aaron Morrison.
Is the intelligence community hiding something from the president?
The latest bombshell report about the White House and the intelligence community: "U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter." That Wall Street Journal report released Wednesday night triggered vigorous denials from the White House and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. If it is true, this means less than a month into Trump's presidency, some intelligence officials have unilaterally decided the elected leader of the country is not fit to handle sensitive information. Whether they're right or wrong, the implication is incredible.
Some of you may be rejoicing. But consider the precedent this sets: The American military answers to a civilian leadership. It has always been that way. (Remember how retired Gen. James Mattis needed a waiver from Congress to become secretary of defense because he had recently served in the military.) This system ensures military and law enforcement do not act independently of elected oversight. While the CIA, FBI, generals and other apparatuses have great discretion in how they function, they ultimately answer to the president — but maybe not anymore?
This story comes a day after Trump accused "intelligence" (those are his quotes) agencies of leaking information to undermine him, despite the fact that the sources who fueled bombshell New York Times and CNN stories were not clearly from the intelligence community. On Wednesday, he singled out the "(NSA and FBI?)" on Twitter.
What do you think? Should intelligence agencies withhold sensitive information from Trump? Or is that a dangerous precedent? Reply to this email with your thoughts.
Meanwhile, in Syria: The U.S. is considering putting ground troops in Syria. Trump was clear he wanted to be stronger on ISIS. But putting substantial American military forces on the ground was a move Obama shied away from for years, recalling American disapproval of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of George W. Bush's second term. Now, the U.S. is apparently looking at again committing soldiers to fight insurgents in Syria.
What Puzder's withdrawal means
Andy Puzder's nomination was on edge for days, but it was a tape from Oprah Winfrey that sealed his demise. Trump's nominee for labor secretary withdrew Wednesday after Politico obtained a tape of Puzder's ex-wife describing Puzder threatening her on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1990. Those threats, she said at the time, came after she publicly accused Puzder of spousal abuse. The revelation forced Puzder to drop out as Republicans balked at supporting someone who faced such charges. (Anyone remember when Trump faced similar allegations during the campaign?)
Trump's pick of Puzder was controversial from the start. The fast food magnate opposes minimum wage increases and uses sexually charged ads to sell hamburgers for Hardee's and Carl's Jr. His nomination triggered protests from fast food industry workers, including his own employees. And Puzder has a track record of labor violations — which he would have overseen at the Labor department.
Puzder's withdrawal is a nominal political defeat for Trump. But whoever the president nominates to replace the fast food CEO will likely be confirmed by Senate Republicans, as the rest of Trump's Cabinet has. The larger question: Why would Trump nominate someone with so much controversial baggage in the first place?
Think you know the answer? Reply to this email with your thoughts.
Happening today: Trump will sign a resolution rolling back a rule that would have prevented coal mining companies from dumping debris in streams. The problem is especially prevalent in mountainous areas of West Virginia and Kentucky, where mountains are sliced open and millions of tons of earth must be deposited somewhere. Mountaintop removal has destroyed an estimated 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia, according to an environmental group.
The "Stream Protection Rule" was implemented by the Obama administration in late 2016 to prevent further devastation of mountain streams. Coal companies argued the regulation could inhibit the ailing industry's ability to mine new coal. Republicans bought into that argument, and so did Trump, who made campaign promises to return jobs to coal country. (This probably won't change that, but it sends the message Trump is serious about undoing regulations loathed by industry.)
As you watch for headlines that Trump has signed, consider this image of a mountain being wasted by mountaintop removal.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• What happens to restaurants when immigrant workers go on strike? We're about to find out. (Mic)
• Trump has come under fire for only calling on conservative journalists who avoid asking him challenging questions. I broke down that trend across Trump's last four press conferences.
• The United States no longer solidly backs the two-state solution. That comes after Trump's Wednesday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump said, "I'm happy with the one they like the best," altering two decades of American consensus of how to bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. (Mic)
• Trump: Michael Flynn "has been treated very, very unfairly by the media." The president continued to attack the "fake media" and leaks he says are coming from the intelligence community. Keep in mind, Trump supposedly asked for Flynn's resignation earlier in the week — apparently only because what Flynn did leaked to the press? (Mic)
• While in college, Trump adviser Stephen Miller launched an anti-Muslim group. Miller was an architect of Trump's executive order on immigration that banned travel from several Muslim-majority countries and Syrian refugees. More from Mic.
• The Day Without Immigrants protest is shutting down restaurants across the country on Thursday. (Mic)