FACT CHECK: Are Republicans Stonewalling The Russia Investigation?
In a speech at the California Democratic Party convention Saturday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the GOP for its handling of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Republicans in Congress must stop stonewalling our quest for the facts,” Pelosi said.
We evaluated her claim that the GOP is stonewalling the Russia investigation.
There are currently four primary committees in Congress conducting separate Russia investigations. While these committees are comprised of Republicans and Democrats, the GOP steers the agenda since it commands majorities in both houses of Congress.
The committees are powerful fact-finding bodies that can compel individuals and organizations to submit documents and appear for testimony.
Congressional probes include exploring whether former Trump campaign advisers and former White House officials had improper contact with foreign governments.
These investigations have taken on a new dimension in the last week as lawmakers questioned the circumstances under which President Donald Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and what his motivations may have been.
When it came to light that Trump may have asked Comey to drop the probe into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, critics accused Trump of interfering with the FBI investigation. Congressional committees responded by asking the FBI to turn over notes written by Comey that detail his conversations with Trump.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also requested that the White House provide “tapes” of these conversations that Trump has allegedly recorded. The White House has avoided publicly stating whether these recordings exist.
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Comey has accepted an invitation from the Senate Intelligence Committee to provide additional testimony after Memorial Day, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has requested a hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote a memo recommending that Comey be terminated.
Pelosi suggests that the GOP is using its position in the majority to obstruct or delay the probe in order to protect the president.
However, this assertion comes at a time when Republicans in Congress have expanded the scope of their investigation and after the Justice Department has, under increasing pressure, appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel – a move welcomed by both sides of the aisle that effectively puts the FBI investigation into more independent hands.
Pelosi and other House Democrats insist that congressional committees, and even the independent counsel, are not enough to conduct a fair, impartial investigation. On May 17, Republicans blocked a vote in Congress by Democrats who called for an independent commission – a panel separate from Congress that would pursue fact finding in much the same way as the congressional committees.
Pelosi has portrayed Republicans as obstructionists for refusing to create the commission. “Republicans in Congress must decide whether they will be accomplices to the President’s abuses, or whether they will honor their oath to the Constitution,” said Pelosi.
But the call by House Democrats diverts attention away from the fact that investigations are proceeding constructively without an independent commission. While Pelosi highlights an unmet demand from Democrats, the blocked vote doesn’t constitute obstruction if congressional investigations are actively underway.
For its part, the White House, which Pelosi also criticized, has not been cooperative with a request from the House Oversight Committee to turn over documents relating to Flynn’s security clearance and steps taken by the Trump administration to vet him.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the committee, requested these documents back in March, but has resisted calls from Ranking Democratic Member Elijah Cummings to subpoena the documents after the White House declined to provide them.
Chaffetz and the White House argue the Trump administration should not be compelled to procure information about a security clearance that was approved in 2016 under the Obama administration.
Democrats would argue these are delay tactics, while Republicans would insist these documents are not germane to oversight of the current administration. These are partisan tensions, and it is not surprising that Democrats would want to pursue the Russia investigation more aggressively than Republicans.
It is important, however, to view congressional investigations into Russia more broadly than one congressional request for data. This committee and others have generally operated in a bipartisan manner in recent months.
In April, Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee agreed to a witness list of three to four dozen individuals and have held several hearings this month as part of the Russia investigation.
And earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee requested documents from several Trump campaign associates and issued a subpoena to Flynn.
Pelosi’s remark that “Republicans in Congress must stop stonewalling our quest for the facts” creates a false impression that the Republican Party is circling the wagons around the president and playing politics with a federal investigation.
Fact-finding has moved forward in a generally bipartisan fashion in recent months, and in the wake of new revelations about the firing of Comey, Republicans have actually expanded their probe. We rate Pelosi’s claim as false.
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