Politics

Democrats want inquiry of Russian role in US affairs as Republican concern grows

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a Tuesday news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The stunning resignation of Michael T. Flynn as White House national security adviser has emboldened congressional Democrats to demand a broader investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia — and compelled a small group of leading Republicans to acknowledge growing concerns over the episode.

“It’s dysfunctional as far as national security is concerned,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the Trump White House. “Who’s in charge? Who’s in charge? Who’s making policy? Who’s making decisions?”

While many Republican lawmakers remained largely silent Tuesday about the turmoil in Trump’s national security apparatus, some allowed that further inquiry might be necessary, to a point.

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Republican leadership in the Senate said that it was likely that Flynn would be asked to testify before the Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, and that his discussions with the Russian ambassador would probably be folded into the review.

But there still appeared to be little momentum for a select committee to investigate Russian interference — an idea that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, has long resisted.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Few Republicans in Congress lamented Flynn’s departure from the administration, crediting Trump for hastening his resignation, despite reports that White House officials knew for weeks that Flynn had misled colleagues.

“I think it’s pretty obvious why he decided to make the decision he did,” McConnell said of Trump.

At the same time, in a striking role reversal, the party long known for its universally hawkish stance toward Russia is now ceding some of that ground to Democrats.

On Tuesday, Democrats tried to make it clear that Flynn’s resignation must be only the first chapter in the story of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

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“The crisis here rises above party,” said the Democratic leader in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, calling for an “independent, nonpartisan” investigation and insisting that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general who was active in Trump’s campaign alongside Flynn, recuse himself from any review.

Some Republicans, though, were eager to move on.

“I think that situation has taken care of itself,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., sidestepped calls for congressional inquiries into the Flynn episode, saying he would not “prejudge any of the circumstances surrounding this.”

But, he added, “you cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others.”

Flynn resigned after admitting he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the contents of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, after the election but before Trump took office.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) waits for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada Monday in his office at the Capitol.

For the Democrats, broader questions have been raised by Russian involvement before and after the election.

The revelation about the conversations “reinforces both the urgency and the significance of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russian interference,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “which will include a thorough examination of contacts between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, as well as interviews with current and former government officials.”

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He added, “It is clear that our task is more urgent than ever.”

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s chairman, was less voluble.

“I intend to have an active oversight of the committee in our areas of jurisdiction,” he told reporters Tuesday, boarding a subway in the Capitol.

Several Republican lawmakers seemed most inclined to praise Trump and his team for acting decisively.

“The administration got to the facts and made a decision expeditiously,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

In his remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, McConnell chastised Democrats for moving slowly on the confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, and did not mention Flynn.

Republican Senate offices fired off approving statements about Linda McMahon’s confirmation to lead the Small Business Administration, dwelling little on Flynn.

Leading Republicans in the House spent their weekly news conference at the Capitol focusing instead on dismantling the Affordable Care Act — and wishing their spouses a happy Valentine’s Day, one by one, from the microphone.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., speaking on the Senate floor, seemed incredulous at the reticence of his Republican colleagues.

“The party of Reagan has spoken zero times about the Russian attack or Flynn’s actions on the floor of the Senate since early October,” Durbin said, noting McConnell’s silence on the matter.

McCain, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s approach and tenor toward Russia, was among the earliest to speak out forcefully Tuesday.

“Gen. Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections,” McCain said in a prepared statement.

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However, McCain did not restate his earlier calls for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, which has not been supported by McConnell, who said any such investigations should be the purview of the relevant Senate committees. McCain has vowed that his committee will conduct a thorough inquiry and that he had full confidence in Trump’s Defense and Homeland Security secretaries, calling his partnership with them “excellent.”

Most Republicans pursued similar arguments, deflecting questions about the need for further investigations into the administration’s ties to Russia. But a handful expressed concern about the pace of progress.

“It is frustrating to understand how we’re going to get a full, in-depth look at all the things that have happened,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think this episode does heighten the intensity around wanting to make sure that it’s fulsome and that we understand all aspects of what’s occurred.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., identified a possible silver lining.

“I just think it makes it almost impossible for them to lift sanctions now,” said Graham, who introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would require congressional approval for Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. “That’s sort of the good news.”

Graham suggested, gently, that Republicans should take care to avoid any appearance of hypocrisy.

“I think it’s important for us to be informed about the phone call. Did he do it by himself? Did he kind of go rogue or did somebody suggest to him to call the Russians?” he said. “I know we would be upset as Republicans if the Obama administration had done this.”

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