Focus on the Russia Inquiries

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 29, 2017

Well, this sounds as if it were inevitable: Republican congressmen say they are approaching the end of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election without resolving whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians. And that would be perfectly okay, according to interviews with Politico.com.

Democrats will be left with a choice of trying to continue themselves — with all the tain of partisanship that will carry with it — or accepting the incomplete results to preserve a chance of presenting bipartisan results.

This discussion about ending investigations is coming even as new information continues to come out: Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III was reported on Friday night to have filed the first sealed charges in the extended Russia mess, perhaps to be unsealed this morning with at least one arrest. It would seem to indicate that this should be seen as the beginning, not the end.

Nevertheless, before this news broke, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) was suggesting that his panel’s investigation will end early next year, emphasizing that he wants to wrap up by February, ahead of the first 2018 primaries. Yes, there are more witnesses still to interview, but there will be pressures from a calendar that will require results soon. And, he suggested, the end may come with no evidence of specific collusion.

“If there’s evidence that there was something there, that will be laid out. If there’s no evidence, how could anybody object to it?” Burr said.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who leads the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, hopes to finish before the Senate. He wants a meeting with Burr, and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, to see what conclusions they mutually see.

Wildly divergent conclusions, he said, could “embarrass the institution” and could send mixed messages about the urgency of the Russian threat, Politico reported.

The Democrats agree on the meeting, but perhaps will not agree on conclusions. After all, ending these Russia probes likely will prove controversial and bring out the worst in partisanship between the parties. Already, some Republicans on the committees have publicly dismissed allegations that Trump allies might have helped Russia’s interference campaign, saying that there has been no definitive evidence suggesting collusion.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated effort Republican congress members may be trying to limit special counsel Mueller and the FBI in its increasingly widening investigation of the election interference, the firing of former FBI director James Comey and more business dealings with Russia by people in Trump’s orbit. The chosen weapon for the limiting effort may be the special counsel’s budget.

Mueller must show six months’ worth of spending for Justice Department review, but Republicans already are rumbling about not wanting to support an “open-ended” investigation.

Put it all together, and you have fresh intelligence that the Republicans are beginning to circle the wagons around the White House to protect the President — and themselves in 2018. The best news for Trump, and indeed all Republicans, would be for these Russia issues simply to pass away.

But the unwinding of events is still under way. Just yesterday, The New York Times confirmed that Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower last summer, had allegations with her that had been cleared with the allegations with Yuri Y. Chaika, prosecutor general and among Russia’s most powerful officials. Those allegations supposedly were damaging to the Democratic National Committee, and, eventually to candidate Hillary Clinton. In other words, it is another log on the Russia fire that Veselnitskaya and others have said were relatively innocent meetings with no links to or involvement by the Kremlin.

At its base, the question has never wavered here since the start of FBI inquiries last year: Did Russia seek to interfere with the 2016 elections, and was there collusion of one sort or another with the Trump campaign. Apart from any lasting effects on the Trump administration, it was generally asserted as a bipartisan matter that we have a responsibility to ensure that American elections are free of foreign influence. Why did Congress vote sanctions against Russians, if they were not trying to make a statement about stopping such efforts? If Republicans now do not believe that there was a problem, why are they not backing off the sanctions?

On the other hand, if they believe there must be a bottom line, why stop now?

Indeed, the Trumpists have pushed back, and, now bolstered by some recent reports, suggest that it was the Democrats, not Republicans, who worked with Russia over time. And they are happy to launch new investigations — these apparently will not be a waste of public tax money — into a decision in 2010 to see uranium to Russia while Clinton was secretary of state, and reports that a Democratic lawyer advising the DNC has paid for a dossier of salacious and adverse information about Trump using a former British spy — after the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news site,

Was identified as having hired Fusion first.

Off to the side, away from the daily fray, Mueller’s team continues to build real criminal cases against former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort. It is reported that Mueller’s team is considering obstruction of justice allegations that could involve Trump’s role in the Comey firing. Mueller’s work is secret, of course, slow and methodical, but eventually will surface.

The question is why political expediency and partisan protection for the President is considered more important than trying to get to the bottom of Russian efforts to influence our elections.

It stinks.

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