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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Devin's not finished

by digby

The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have closed up shop on the Russia investigation, much to their shame. But they aren't just going to sit back and do nothing. They have plans for the future and they aren't good.

This op-ed in the NYT gets to at least some of what they undoubtedly have planned:

Every indication is that this is far from the end of the committee majority’s mischief. All signs instead point to this week’s developments as the beginning of a new chapter in the story, in which House Republicans go on the offensive to support President Trump — and fight the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

That likely trajectory emerges from plotting the data points before us. First, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, attempted to provide cover for President Trump’s false allegation that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. Mr. Nunes met with White House officials in secret and then held news conferences in which he claimed that the outgoing national security adviser, Susan Rice, and her colleagues had wrongly sought to “unmask” (i.e., identify by name) certain Trump associates in surveillance reports.

When that effort ran out of steam, Mr. Nunes and the majority shifted their attention to the process by which law enforcement agencies obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorization to conduct electronic monitoring of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The committee released a highly misleading memo claiming that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice had abused their powers — claims which turned out to be unfounded.

Now, with their forthcoming report, the Republicans on the committee have turned their focus to attacking the substance of the Mueller investigation.

The special counsel is examining three core issues: Did Russia attack the 2016 elections to aid Mr. Trump; did Mr. Trump or members of his campaign collude with the Russians to do so; and did Mr. Trump or others obstruct the investigation of these matters? The committee majority report, which has yet to be released but which members of the majority have begun to tease out in recent days, is an attempt to defang the first question, finding against all evidence that the Russian attack was not intended to help Mr. Trump (though a few members of the majority, including Representative Trey Gowdy, have been more equivocal). And the majority report endeavors to gut the second question, declaring the absence of collusion altogether.

It would be a grave error to think the committee will stop here, especially its chairman. There is nothing in Mr. Nunes’s record to suggest that he will let up in the face of opposition, whether from the stray dissenters within his own (still largely compliant) ranks who have emerged, or from the outside. The so-called “Nunes memo,” although widely considered a flop, was just the first in a series that he has said he plans to issue.

Having assailed the first two prongs of the Mueller investigation, we can now expect Mr. Nunes and his colleagues to turn to the third, and the one perhaps most perilous to the president: obstruction of justice. The president and his supporters have argued that his constitutional power to direct the Justice Department and the F.B.I. and to fire their personnel means he cannot as a matter of law be held accountable for obstructing an investigation. That is wrong; the Supreme Court has held that those presidential powers may be curtailed, and American law is replete with examples of obstruction prosecutions of officials for abusing their undoubted official powers.

Mr. Nunes and his committee majority have demonstrated little regard for such niceties, and we fully expect them to weigh in on the side of the president, and against accountability. Should Mr. Mueller move to compel the president to testify by obtaining a grand jury subpoena, for example, look for them to back arguments circulated by Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the special counsel has not met the threshold for such a step. The fact that Mr. Mueller has accumulated compelling evidence of obstruction is unlikely to give the committee majority pause.

We also expect more overt attacks on Mr. Mueller himself, of the kind Representative Nunes has already launched against Obama-era officials for unmasking and the F.B.I. for the warrant against Mr. Page. Mr. Trump and his allies have already floated a long list of spurious assaults on Mr. Mueller and members of his team, smearing them with allegations of conflicts of interest, bias and abuse of their investigative powers. Now that the House Intelligence Committee majority has done its dirty work on the substance of the Mueller investigation, can picking up these themes to attack the special counsel himself be far behind?

We must in addition look for Representative Nunes and his ilk to back the president should he seek to install a crony in one of the positions within the Justice Department that oversees the Mueller investigation. Why should the president fire the special counsel outright, with the attendant fuss? Mr. Trump instead can try to throttle him by replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, with a compliant soul who can slowly choke off Mr. Mueller by cutting his budget, trimming his staff or curtailing the scope of his review. In a week in which there has already been a major cabinet reshuffle, with the firings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and one of his top aides, Steve Goldstein, the possibility of such a move looms larger — and the likelihood of full-throated backing from Mr. Nunes and company, greater.

The damage the House majority can do here goes beyond mere cheerleading. When Mr. Nunes released his first memo, there were ominous rumblings that it was intended to target Mr. Rosenstein for his alleged role in FISA warrant abuses. When the memo fell flat, the rumors faded away. We would hardly be surprised to see a renewed effort against him — and his boss. Since Mr. Rosenstein oversees Mr. Mueller only because Mr. Sessions has a conflict (he worked on the Trump campaign), the replacement of either would serve Mr. Trump and Mr. Nunes’s malign purposes.

We predict that these and other forms of mischief will continue to flow from a committee majority run amok.

The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are nothing more than Trump's thug bodyguards at this point.

I think it's almost guaranteed that Trump will fire either Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller or all three quite soon. Nunes likely has about 10 months to do Trump's dirty work, assuming that the committee chairmanship changes hands in January. He'll do what it takes.