Stalling? Less than 24 hours after the New York Times first broke the news of James Comey’s notes of his meeting with Donald Trump in February, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings blasted House Republicans for stonewalling any investigation of a potential instance of obstruction of justice.
One question, though: has he bothered to check in with the chair of his own committee?
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 17, 2017
Cummings claims the credibility of self-governance is at stake, which may be true, but perhaps more so because thus far it’s producing hysterics like that seen from Cummings. The Times’ story broke yesterday afternoon — and within an hour of it, House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz had already warned that he would use subpoenas to get the memo, if necessary:
.@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 16, 2017
Chaffetz then followed up with a letter to the FBI asking for all notes and recordings related to any communications between Comey and Trump. And even as early as late yesterday evening, House Speaker Paul Ryan publicly backed an Oversight probe into the matter:
Chaffetz later sent a letter to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, asking for all FBI notes and information on Comey’s communications with President Donald Trump. …A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan showed support for Chaffetz’s push.
“We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement.
That’s not stalling; some might consider it a rush to judgment, although most Republicans have been careful about their rhetoric. If anything, Cummings looks like a relative johnny-come-lately. Just before or concurrent to Cummings’ rant, Ryan spoke out at a presser to state that the House would act to gather all of the facts before jumping to conclusions:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 17, 2017
That’s precisely what needs to happen, and so far Republicans in the House have taken the proper first steps to ensure that the facts come out. Now, having control of the majority means that the GOP could stall oversight at some point, and obstruct any march toward impeachment or censure. Cummings would certainly be correct to blow the whistle if and when that happens, but … that’s not what’s happening here, and it doesn’t appear (for now) that Republicans in the House or Senate seem particularly inclined to circle the wagons around Trump this time.
By the way, Chaffetz is probably among the last of the Republicans in the House to circle the wagons around Trump. He only reluctantly came to support Trump near the end of the campaign in 2016 and has not held back criticism before or since. Chaffetz announced his retirement from Congress last month, so he’s not worried about re-election to his seat. He’s got nothing to lose by scrutinizing the Comey-Trump episode, which makes him potentially dangerous to the White House. His quick and sharp response to the NYT story last night actually demonstrates a motivation to get this on the table quickly, and since he controls the agenda, Cummings would have been better advised to partner up with him rather than accuse Chaffetz of heel-dragging in the 19th hour.
If anything, Cummings’ knee-jerk tribalism might end up producing a tribalistic reaction among other House Republicans. If the credibility of the process is at risk, it’s more because of the partisan torch-and-pitchforks crowd on the other side of the aisle than it is from those responding quickly by taking the proper investigative steps.
Update: The Senate Intelligence Committee isn’t dragging its feet, either:
Inbox: Senate Intel Committee Seeks Additional Information from Comey, McCabe pic.twitter.com/kFWVGbD0fr
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) May 17, 2017
One Twitter reader argued that Cummings is talking about the Russia probe, but the FBI has an open investigation into that. If Republicans in Congress tried to eclipse that probe or interfere with witnesses during the investigation, Cummings and other Democrats would scream bloody murder about it — and they’d be right.