While Congressional Democrats continue to violate House protocol, constitutional guardrails, and the boundaries of common decency in their quest to impeach President Trump, Senate Republicans are fighting back—by writing mean letters.
This vicious counterpunch, launched by powerful Word documents, carefully crafted by the most erudite Senate committee staffers, formatted on embossed letterhead, and signed with a real-life autopen, will undoubtedly strike fear and panic in the heart of their intended targets. Federal bureaucrats finally will face a long-overdue reckoning once these printed dispatches, personally delivered by the steadiest, most well-manicured hand in the Hart Office Building, arrive in their inbox. One shudders at the thought of the poor Justice Department flack or inspector general office assistant tasked with handling such dangerous weaponry as he/she struggles with how to present the devastating blow to his/her boss.
An infuriating sideshow to the Democratic House’s impeachment “inquiry” is that Senate Republicans refuse to wield their power with any measure in return. Instead, while House committee chairmen haul Trump administration officials and former campaign associates out in front of cameras to publicly humiliate them while issuing a flurry of subpoenas to create the chimera of a lawless presidency, Senate Republicans make empty threats and send letters. It’s an inexcusable abdication of power and a pathetic display of political cowardice.
Following closed-door testimony by Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general at the center of the so-called “whistleblower” report related to the July call between Trump and the Ukranian president, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a harsh letter condemning Atkinson. “Your disappointing testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 26 was evasive to the point of being insolent and obstructive,” Cotton wrote on October 9. “I’m dissatisfied, to put it mildly, with your refusal to answer my questions.”
Cotton then posed five questions, including asking to which Democratic candidate or campaign the whistleblower is connected, and requested that Atkinson furnish his answers in writing by Friday, October 11. There is no indication of what Cotton’s next move if Atkinson, like nearly every other recipient of a strongly-worded letter sent by Senate Republicans over the last three years, will be.
Unfortunately, Cotton’s questions and concern about Atkinson arrive nearly two years too late. In January 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a confirmation hearing with Atkinson prior to sending his nomination to the full Senate. (Atkinson was confirmed on a voice vote in May 2018). During that hearing, not one Republican senator, including Cotton, asked Atkinson a single question about his tenure at the Obama Justice Department in 2016 and 2017. Atkinson, as I reported last week, was the senior counsel for two top Justice Department attorneys tied to both the Trump-Russia collusion investigation and the set-up of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.
Those connections alone should have disqualified Atkinson from acting as the watchdog for a vengeful intelligence community out to get Donald Trump. Yet, after being recommended by former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Atkinson avoided any tough questions during his testimony. A former Obama Justice Department official who worked directly with the very same people responsible for sabotaging Trump’s presidential campaign and attempting to derail his presidency was put in a position of power by a Republican Senate.
Further, why did the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee allow Atkinson to testify in private? Why not hold an open hearing on a matter of great public interest and serious political consequence? Senator Richard Burr (R.-N.C.) always can be counted on to play footsie with the Democrats—that should not stop colleagues like Cotton from demanding transparency.
But Cotton wasn’t the only Senate Republican to unleash the full power of his laptop this week. Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (minus Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse) signed a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for an update to criminal referrals they made nearly a year ago related to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation travesty.
Four people, including attorney Michael Avenatti and accuser Julie Swetnick, are suspected of making false statements to the committee in 2018. “When individuals intentionally mislead the Committee, they divert important Committee resources during time sensitive investigations and materially impede its work,” the senators, including former committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), wrote on October 7. “Such acts are not only unfair; they are potentially illegal. It is illegal to make materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements to Congressional investigators. It is illegal to obstruct Committee investigations.”
The committee asked for a status update by October 21 and then thanked Barr and Wray for their “prompt attention” to this matter.
The current chairman of that committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also has been writing letters—and threatening to write even more! Graham penned a note to the leaders of Italy, Australia, and the United Kingdom last week asking them to cooperate with Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia election collusion ruse. Back in May, Graham sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for documents and an interview with a key state department official who reportedly met with dossier author Christopher Steele shortly before the FBI submitted its FISA warrant on Trump campaign aide Carter Page in October 2016. The deadline to respond to Graham’s inquiry was May 23; it’s unclear whether the state department bothered to comply.
In March, Graham asked Barr for a trove of documents related to that FISA warrant amid evidence the legal process had been violated by Jim Comey’s FBI. In his letter to Barr, Graham stated that his “committee will continue to examine…potential abuse of the FISA and investigative initiation processes with regards to Carter Page.” The deadline set for relaying those materials was March 21. Seven months ago.
Now, there’s a chance Graham’s committee is in possession of the materials he requested. But if so, where are the public hearings the senator keeps promising he will schedule? Graham held a hearing back in May with Barr to discuss the finished Mueller report and ongoing investigations into the collusion conspirators. But the American public hasn’t heard any update for the past five months. Also, Graham hasn’t held a hearing on the report issued by the Justice Department Inspector General that blasted former FBI Director James Comey for mishandling classified information.
So, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi probably won’t be too alarmed now that Graham is threatening to send her a letter about impeachment. Graham warned this week he will ask his Republican colleagues to sign a letter telling Pelosi that they “do not believe the transcript of the phone call between the president and the Ukraine is an impeachable offense.”
Unlike House Democrats, Senate Republicans are all talk and no action. They should take a cue from their House counterparts on the other side of the aisle: Reps. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) and Jerold Nadler (D.-N.Y.) could teach them a few things about how to use the power—bequeathed by the constitution and voters. Congressional Republicans have the power to defend the president against a non stop assault with dangerous consequences for the country and subdue their political foes. Why don’t they want to use it?