At this point, the House Intelligence Committee has spent time with a number of witnesses. It’s possible to say that they’ve questioned most of them, but it’s less possible to say that some—like Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks—provided answers. Others, like Cory Lewandowski, claim to have answered “all relevant questions.” What questions were relevant? Why, the ones that Lewandowski answered. Which certainly keeps things neat.
Not only did many members of the Trump campaign, transition team, or White House staff plead the Trump-th, refusing to answer questions based on Trump’s well-nigh limitless idea of privilege, but as Politico reports there’s also the problem that several of them appear to have openly lied.
In November testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Erik Prince dismissed Democrats who asked whether the Blackwater founder’s January 2017 visit to the Seychelles was a furtive attempt to set up a backchannel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.
But now Republicans and Democrats have a basic disagreement. Democrats would like to get at the truth of what happened. That means calling back witnesses who failed to testify, and perhaps doing something about those people who blatantly lied to a congressional committee that is supposed to care about such things.
That’s more than a matter of pride: Lying to Congress is a crime punishable by imprisonment.
Despite Devin Nunes’ semi-recusal from the investigation, he’s still driving everything involved. That ranges from a refusal to issue subpoenas to bringing back witnesses like Bannon who refused to talk, to not calling in witnesses like Sam Nunberg who haven’t met with the committee at all, to charging people like Stone and Prince who lied openly and repeatedly.
Republicans are determined there will be no consequence for lying, and that they’re going to close the door on this whole thing and issue a report giving Trump a clean bill of health. And they want to do it before Mueller pours forth more indictments or releases evidence that would make them look silly. Or sillier..
Republicans have shown little interest in pursuing allegations of false or misleading testimony.
There is the little matter of congressional transcripts showing that these witnesses all told Congress that day was night, and night was day—but they also said Trump was great, so … we’re done here.
And Republicans are beyond smashing all limits of hypocrisy to get this sucker closed down.
“If you have enough balls to come to a congressional hearing and raise your hand saying you swear to tell the truth and it comes out that you’re lying, then there should be consequences for that,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a top member of the committee, said in an interview.
So says Rooney. However, when confronted with the evidence that Erik Prince lied directly to the committee about every aspect of his trip to the Seychelles—why he went, who arranged it, who he met, what they said—Rooney demonstrates his true level of concern.
“I’m very satisfied with Erik Prince’s testimony,” Rooney said.
That makes Lewandowski’s visit the end of the interview train for the House investigation. Instead, the committee will now proceed at double-speed to the report-writing phase. You can expect that they will produce a report saying that there was “no evidence” of Trump’s collusion. It’s a result that’s much easier to reach if witnesses are allowed to stay silent, choose which questions they’ll answer, or simply lie without consequence.