Democrats hold no levers of power in Washington, but they have pulled out their megaphones to demand that Michael T. Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser open the first chapter – not the last – of investigations into contacts between Trump aides and Moscow – during and after Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
“Nothing about this resignation, or resignations that could occur in the future, precludes the Senate Intelligence Committee from continuing to investigate Gen. Flynn, or any other campaign official who may have had inappropriate and improper contacts with Russian officials prior to the election,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It is clear that our task is more urgent than ever.”
In a joint statement, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said, “We in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks. We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security.”
They continued: “While Congressional Republicans have turned a blind eye to their constitutional duty to conduct oversight on these issues, we Democrats believe that this new disclosure warrants a full classified briefing by all relevant agencies, including the Department of Justice and the F.B.I., as soon as possible and certainly before Thursday, Feb. 16. We are communicating this request to the Department of Justice and F.B.I. this evening.”
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The Democratic National Committee reiterated the party’s call for an independent, bipartisan panel styled after the 9/11 Commission to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, the lead Democrat on the CIA subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee, was blunt: “For the sake of our nation’s future, our intelligence and law enforcement community must determine whether Donald Trump’s loyalties lie with us or with the Russians.”
Republican leaders have refused so far to establish a special bipartisan committee to examine Moscow’s meddling, arguing that the existing congressional committees are capable of handling the inquiries. But they may now find themselves under pressure to reverse course.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Flynn made the right decision to step down but he sidestepped questions about whether an inquiry is warranted.
“You cannot have the national security adviser misleading the vice president and others,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “I’m not going to prejudge any of the circumstances surrounding this until we have all of the information.”
“I think that situation has taken care of itself,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the first elected Republican to hit hard on the turmoil in Trump’s White House, and the continuing questions about Russian influence.
“General Flynn’s resignation is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus,” said McCain, who has emerged as one of the few Republican antagonists that Trump has not silenced.
“General 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,” he continued.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Congress should “exhaustively” examine Flynn’s actions.
As scandal swirled around Trump’s new White House, other Republicans in Congress were almost silent on the resignation of Flynn and its implications.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes of California, a Trump loyalist, released one of the few statements from the Republican side of the aisle, and it offered no criticism: “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. I thank him for his many years of distinguished service.”
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was no more forthcoming. “Mike Flynn served his country with distinction,” he said in a statement. “The President needs a National Security Advisor whom he can trust and I defer to him to decide who best fills that role.”
An exception, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, who threw his not very heavy weight behind a bipartisan commission.
“@MarkHalperin hits key point on @Morning–Joe: Republicans must stand with Dems for full investigation into Gen. Flynn and Russia connect,” Steele posted on Twitter.
Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, told a military conference on Tuesday that the upheavals in Washington are rippling through the U.S. military.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” he said. “I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.”
Thomas insisted Special Operations Forces are “staying focused” despite all the controversy in Washington.
Asked about his comments later, Thomas said in a brief interview, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”
Although the White House was warned a month ago that Flynn had been untruthful about the nature of his contacts with Moscow, he was allowed into security briefings as recently as Monday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on the “Today” show on Tuesday.
The Justice Department had warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn’s dissembling put him at risk of blackmail from Russian intelligence, but he was kept by the president’s side.
“That’s one characterization,” Conway said when confronted with those circumstances.
Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States are not in question, nor is his trip to Moscow to fete the Russian propaganda network RT – sitting next to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin – but Moscow said Tuesday that his resignation was a domestic matter unconnected to the Kremlin.
The Associated Press and Tribune News Service contributed to this story.