Chaffetz: No need for Oversight to investigate Flynn now — but ….
… that doesn’t mean that Congress has closed the case of Michael Flynn, either. House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz responded to calls from Democrats on his committee to conduct a full investigation of now-former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russia. Chaffetz told reporters this morning that Flynn’s resignation means that the matter is no longer in his jurisdiction — but predicted that the House Intelligence Committee will pick up the matter instead:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Tuesday that his panel won’t investigate the circumstances that led to Michael Flynn stepping down Monday as President Trump’s national security adviser. …
Chaffetz said that sensitive intelligence methods falls to the House Intelligence Committee, rather than his House Oversight Committee.
“It really is the purview of the Intel Committee. They really are the only ones that can look at that type of information, particularly when you’re talking about interactions with a nation state like that. It’s not something the Oversight Committee can actually look at because sources and methods are the exclusive purview of the Intel Committee,” Chaffetz said.
However, Intelligence chair Devin Nuñes (R-CA) told CNN that the matter may fall within the realm of executive privilege, and he has no plans to launch a probe yet — of Flynn, anyway. Instead, Nuñes wants to investigate the leaks that made the issue public [see update below]:
Conversations between Trump and Flynn would fall under executive privilege, but what about between Flynn and the Russian envoy? That wouldn’t fall under executive privilege, as ranking Intelligence committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA) argued:
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told House Democrats Tuesday that the recent revelations about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russians are only the beginning, and more information will surface in the coming days, according to multiple sources in a closed party meeting.
Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said that any conversations that Flynn had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Donald Trump took office would not be covered by executive privilege, potentially making some information subject to congressional investigations. Republicans have so far balked at probing this matter.
That may not be covered under executive privilege even if it took place after Trump’s inauguration. However, the more basic question was whether it violated the law. The Logan Act forbids private citizens and public officials from conducting foreign policy without authorization from the president, a law that has been on the books for more than two hundred years and has been used for prosecution exactly zero times. As I argued last week, there is certainly an ethical question about having an incoming administration undermine the foreign policy of the existing one, but the punishment for that should be a high-profile firing and political shaming, which has now been fulfilled. Unless Democrats find evidence of actual espionage — and that seems highly unlikely — the best they can do is to keep using this to beat up the Trump administration. At this point, it’s tough to argue that the White House hasn’t earned this public beating, either, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans will be anxious to hand them more bats.
Paul Ryan suggested earlier today that the Trump administration will offer up a more complete explanation of the events of the last few weeks soon. That seems a bit optimistic; right now they seem to have gone into tight-messaging mode and are looking for subject-changers. Ryan also gave his support to Trump for having asked for Flynn’s resignation, which is slightly different than the “Flynn resigned on his own” explanation from last night and early this morning. If nothing else, the White House should cheer that take, as it makes Trump look a little more decisive in dealing with the chaos of the last few days.
Update: Eli Lake makes a very good case for Nuñes’ investigative focus:
Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.
In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). John Bolton’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was derailed in 2006 after the NSA confirmed he had made 10 such requests when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control in George W. Bush’s first term. The fact that the intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag.
Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern.” …
In the end, it was Trump’s decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.
Be sure to read it all.