This week Donald Trump issued executive orders that will do irreparable damage to the environment and signed a law that will take away the existing access to health care for one in five American women by partly defunding Planned Parenthood, but Russia is again front and center in the news. After Trump had tried to throw a wrench into the investigations of Russian interference in the election by tweeting that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the presidential campaign, fake news of which the debunking by FBI director Comey seemingly ended the distraction, the political acrobatics of Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became the next curveball aimed at the congressional probes. It soon became clear that the ‘new’ information with which Nunes first ran to Speaker Paul Ryan and then to Trump had been provided to him in the middle of the night on the White House grounds, which made his return trip to the White House to brief the president as absurd as it was improper. It was obvious that Nunes and the White House were in cahoots, with Ryan’s implicit blessing.
The goals of Nunes’s antics were first to vindicate Trump, who had basically been exposed as a liar by Comey, and then to derail the congressional investigations into the Russian interference. However, the fact that three mid-level White House staffers had given Nunes the names of Trump associates who had incidentally been swept up in intelligence operations didn’t exonerate Trump, but showed him and his immediate advisors to be a bunch of creepy connivers. As for the second goal, by bypassing the members of his own committee, including the ranking Democrat, and not sharing any information with them, Nunes has effectively halted the investigation by the House, and it is unclear if it can ever be resumed. So far two hearings have been cancelled by Nunes, and it is noteworthy that at one of those hearings Sally Yates was supposed to testify, the former acting Attorney General who informed the White House about the communications during the transition period between Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Kislyak, which eventually led to Flynn’s being fired as National Security Advisor.
The White House, via Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s briefings, makes it very clear that it stands by Trump’s accusation towards Obama, and that it considers the fact that some of the president’s associates – and possibly Trump himself – can be recognized in reports on the communications of foreign agents, who may have mentioned them or been on the phone with them, far more serious than the Russian interference, which Spicer only mentions to downgrade its importance.
In an effort to keep the distraction going the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been invited to come to the White House and see what Nunes saw. Fortunately the investigation conducted by the Senate committee has not been sabotaged so far, and the FBI investigation that started in the summer of 2016 is ongoing.
And then there is Michael Flynn. He offered to talk to both committees on the condition that he is granted immunity. Flynn, who talked about the US sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, can testify about similar conversations with Trump. If anything keeps Trump awake at night, that’s it.