On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff revealed that the members of the committee hadn’t known that Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort traveled to Europe, met with a Russian operative, and provided the Russians with internal polling info from the Trump campaign. That this is just now leaking to the public is one thing, but that kind of information seems like something that should have surfaced during any serious investigation. And it seems like exactly the sort of thing that makes an even bigger mockery out of the “no collusion” report produced by former House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes.
But then Nunes never did an investigation. He presided over an un-vestigation: a desperate attempt to bury every bit of evidence, thwart every request for a document, block every subpeona, and attack the DOJ for fun and profit. Mostly profit.
Now that Nunes has been sidelined and Schiff is in charge, the House committee is cranking up — really, for the first time — a genuine investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia. And, as the New York Times reports, that investigation appears to be starting over almost from square one. The committee has sent out “dozens” of letters to members of Trump’s staff, both at the White House and at Trump Tower, finally requesting those documents that Nunes deliberately ignored. And they’ve begun lining up interviews with some of the more than two dozen witnesses whom they wanted to speak to before Republicans abruptly canned the un-vestigation and issued their one-sided report.
Anyone expecting revelations to begin pouring out of the committee is likely to be disappointed, but then, no one should have had those expectations. With Nunes acting as an effective roadblock, it’s not as if the House committee was sitting on a stack of unpublished info. It simply had no info. Because, after all, the only way to scream “no collusion” about a campaign where simply everyone was having meetings with Russian officials is not to collect any serious information.
With the knowledge that they’re entering this game even as special counsel Robert Mueller appears to be working toward some big indictments, if not a final report, and acknowledging that the Senate has been slowly plodding forward even as Republicans put the House investigation on ice, Democrats are going to move very deliberately, looking directly into the original concerns: conspiracy between the Trump 2016 campaign and the Russian government, and obstruction of justice related to that conspiracy.
And they’re going to focus initially on two people whom Republicans on the committee were afraid to touch: Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
One of the first requests that have gone out is for Trump Jr.’s phone records. Schiff had requested these documents over a year ago, but Nunes consistently blocked any attempt to subpoena the information. This time, should the information not be swiftly provided, a subpoena will follow.
The purpose of looking at these records is to answer multiple questions about the Trump Tower meeting, which still shows every sign of being a pivotal moment in the connection between the Trump team and Russia. Trump Jr. made multiple calls on that day, including to Russian oligarch Emin Agalarov, but he also called a now-infamous blocked number. Suspicions have run high that the person on the other end of the latter call was Donald Trump. Schiff intends to find out.
The other big item Schiff is pulling is are financial records of the Trump Organization’s Russia dealings. The recent revelations that Trump was still trying to make a deal for a Moscow skyscraper throughout the 2016 campaign were also missing from Nunes’ whitewashed report. Schiff is going to look at that deal, but not just that deal. He’s also going to open the door on Trump’s long history of sweetheart deals with Russia, including that time he purchased a mansion for $40 million and sold it to a Russian oligarch for just under $100 million, and the numerous sales of apartments and condos in Manhattan at far above market prices.
A slow warm-up doesn’t mean that the intelligence committee won’t be dusting off a room in the House basement to act as a cell for assorted Trump campaign members who try to run with that “everything is privilege” idea again. Letters are going out now. Subpoenas will follow. Then come the contempt charges.
The House investigation isn’t wrapping up. It’s just warming up. Expect it to get hot.