House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Tuesday he will not pursue an investigation into what contacts Michael Flynn had with the Russian government before Donald Trump took office, and whether Flynn then lied about his communications.
Chaffetz is not the only Republican backing off holding Flynn accountable.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday he may carry out an investigation ― but regarding the leaks of details about Flynn’s call, rather than his actual conduct.
That approach is the same one that Trump took on Twitter Tuesday morning, when he said the “real story” was the leaks.
Nunes, who was part of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, also put out a statement offering nothing but praise for Flynn after he announced he would step down from the administration.
“Michael Flynn served in the U.S. military for more than three decades. Washington, D.C. can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn ― who has always been a soldier, not a politician ― deserves America’s gratitude and respect for dedicating so much of his life to strengthening our national security,” he said in a statement. “I thank him for his many years of distinguished service.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he believed it was “the right thing to do” for the White House to ask Flynn to resign, but he did not weigh in on whether Congress should investigate further.
“You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others,” he told reporters during a Tuesday morning press conference.
On Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had asked Flynn to step down.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told The Huffington Post he is not bothered by Chaffetz’s refusal to investigate.
“We appear to know the facts,” he said. “I’m not obsessed about this.”
GOP senators, meanwhile, generally took a dimmer view of Flynn’s activities than their House colleagues.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said an investigation needed to happen to figure out what Flynn did and who else knew about it “so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN Tuesday that he wanted to see transcripts of Flynn’s calls with the Russians and figure out whether Flynn was acting at the direction of anyone else in the administration.
And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told HuffPost that he believes, ultimately, Flynn will have to testify before the Intelligence Committee.
Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser Monday night after evidence piled up that he had discussed sanctions with Russian officials before Trump took office.
Flynn’s talk with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, came a day before President Barack Obama’s administration announced sanctions on the Russian government after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that top officials interfered in the 2016 elections to help elect Trump. Flynn and other Trump administration officials have consistently denied that such a conversation ever took place. But unfortunately for Flynn, there turned out to be transcripts from a wiretap of his call.
Flynn also may have violated the obscure Logan Act, which bars private citizens from interfering in foreign relations.
The Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice had informed the administration last month that it believed Flynn had misled the administration when he said he had not discussed sanctions during the late December call. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates also said she believed Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians because of the information he was hiding. Trump later fired Yates because she refused to defend his ban on refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly particularly upset by the whole affair, since he went out and publicly went on television and said Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the ambassador. Pence was further frustrated that after more details came out in recent days, Flynn blamed his faulty memory rather than fully apologize, according to The New York Times.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was one of the few House Republicans who initially came out forcefully against what Flynn did, saying the fact that he tried to lie about what he did was “arguably, or questionably a crime.”
“It was a bad decision to call Russia and talk about this in the middle of, you know, the past administration determining what sanctions are going to look like. But what happened, the big problem is when he lied to the vice president,” he said on Fox News.
On Monday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee demanded that Chaffetz either dig into the Flynn allegations or step aside and “allow the Committee to vote on conducting basic oversight going forward.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, also told his Democratic colleagues Tuesday morning that the revelations about Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador are just the tip of the iceberg and that more will be coming.
Jennifer Bendery and Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
This piece was updated with Spicer’s comments.
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