Adam Schiff widens the Trump probe

It’s le­git­i­mate for Congress to ask if the pres­i­dent has been swayed by for­eign and fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

In his State of the Union ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Trump called for Democrats and Repub­li­cans to “em­brace the bound­less potential of co­op­er­a­tion, com­pro­mise and the com­mon good.” But that ap­peal came with a catch: Democrats who now con­trol the House must not con­duct “ridicu­lous par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tions” of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The pres­i­dent’s de­mand is not only un­rea­son­able, given the lin­ger­ing ques­tions about pos­si­ble Rus­sian in­flu­ence over his cam­paign and his ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’s also hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Trump didn’t ob­ject when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tu­lare) and other Repub­li­cans on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee es­sen­tially op­er­ated the panel as a pub­lic re­la­tions arm of the White House. But now that the com­mit­tee is headed by Demo­crat Adam B. Schiff, who has re­opened and ex­panded the com­mit­tee’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Trump is cry­ing foul.

On Thurs­day he tweeted: “So now Con­gress­man Adam Schiff an­nounces, af­ter hav­ing found zero Rus­sian Collusion, that he is go­ing to be look­ing at ev­ery as­pect of my life, both fi­nan­cial and per­sonal, even though there is no rea­son to be do­ing so. Never hap­pened be­fore! Un­lim­ited Pres­i­den­tial Ha­rass­ment.”

Ac­tu­ally, the com­mit­tee isn’t plan­ning to ex­am­ine “ev­ery as­pect” of Trump’s life. But Schiff has made it clear that it will ex­plore a va­ri­ety of ques­tions, in­clud­ing some re­lated to the pres­i­dent’s fi­nances (a sub­ject Trump once de­clared off-lim­its to in­ves­ti­ga­tors).

That am­bi­tious agenda is jus­ti­fied and over­due, but it could be ex­plo­sive po­lit­i­cally. For that rea­son, it’s im­por­tant that the com­mit­tee un­der Demo­cratic con­trol not be per­ceived as be­ing sim­ply the mir­ror im­age of Nunes’ par­ti­san op­er­a­tion, ded­i­cated to dis­cred­it­ing the pres­i­dent in­stead of de­fend­ing him. Nor should its in­ves­ti­ga­tion be framed as a dry run for im­peach­ment.

Schiff has said the com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion would fo­cus prin­ci­pally on “five in­ter­con­nected lines of in­quiry”: what the Rus­sian govern­ment has done to in­flu­ence U.S. elec­tions and how the U.S. govern­ment has re­sponded; the ex­tent of any links or co­or­di­na­tion between Rus­sia and fig­ures in Trump’s or­bit; whether any for­eign ac­tor has sought or holds any kind of lever­age over Trump or his as­so­ci­ates; whether Trump or his as­so­ci­ates are or were vul­ner­a­ble to for­eign ma­nip­u­la­tion, or ever sought to shape U.S. pol­icy to ad­vance for­eign in­ter­ests; and whether any­one has tried to ob­struct in­ves­ti­ga­tions into these mat­ters.

This sug­gests a dra­mat­i­cally more ag­gres­sive in­quiry than the Repub­li­can-led House probe, which re­ported find­ing “no ev­i­dence that the Trump cam­paign col­luded, co­or­di­nated, or con­spired with the Rus­sian govern­ment.” (In a dis­sent­ing re­port, Democrats claimed that the ma­jor­ity failed to call key wit­nesses and re­quest per­ti­nent doc­u­ments, omis­sions the new ma­jor­ity pre­sum­ably will seek to rec­tify.)

Per­haps the two most significant themes are the em­pha­sis on Trump’s business af­fairs and the fo­cus on Trump’s pres­i­dency, not just his cam­paign. Schiff per­sua­sively ar­gues that these is­sues fall squarely within the com­mit­tee’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence man­date and that pur­su­ing them is jus­ti­fied by ev­i­dence in the record. That in­cludes in­for­ma­tion about Trump’s fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in Rus­sia. For ex­am­ple, dis­cus­sions over a pos­si­ble Trump Tower in Moscow ap­par­ently went on well past the time when for­mer Trump lawyer Michael Co­hen told the com­mit­tee that they had ended. (Co­hen pleaded guilty to ly­ing to Congress about that is­sue.)

The pub­lic’s in­ter­est in these is­sues is clear. A pres­i­dent shouldn’t be in­flu­enced in his pol­icy de­ci­sions by his fi­nan­cial pur­suits; it’s le­git­i­mate for Congress to ask if that is the case with Trump.

The chal­lenge for Schiff and the Democrats is to pur­sue their in­quiry in a way that makes it hard for Trump or his sup­port­ers to dis­miss it as par­ti­san “pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment.” Schiff says Repub­li­cans on the panel may re­join the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though he’s not sure whether they would be do­ing so in good faith. He should do his best to con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a way that will win the co­op­er­a­tion of some Repub­li­cans and re­store the bi­par­ti­san­ship that used to pre­vail on the com­mit­tee.

The ques­tions that Schiff has teed up for the com­mit­tee are se­ri­ous. Repub­li­cans as well as Democrats should be in­ter­ested in the answers.

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