Immediately following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, congressional Democrats are demanding a thorough and independent investigation of ties between the Trump administration and the Russian government.
National security adviser Michael Flynn finally resigned in disgrace amid the deepening questions about his contact with Russian officials, both prior to and since the November election. But his resignation does not bring an end to this debacle; in fact, it only makes investigating it more urgent, as answers are still needed as to what various members of the Trump administration — including Donald Trump himself and Vice President Mike Pence — knew about this issue and when had they become aware of it.
The Trump team may not wish to provide those answers — or least, not accurate or complete ones — but Congressional Democrats are not backing off in their quest for a complete and truthful explanation of every aspect of this crisis.
During a press conference with multiple Democratic members of the House, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee, was clear about what had happened in regard to Flynn's position, stating, "The resignation of Michael Flynn was brought about not by discovering the falsehood, but by the fact that the falsehood became public." Schiff also declared that if Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is unwilling to commit to an independent investigation, "he ought to allow the formation of an independent commission and get out of the way."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was very clear about what the people deserve to know, and how Republicans in Congress are failing them.
CUMMINGS: Let me begin by asking everyone in this room a very simple question: Do you hear that? [pause] Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero. That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution.
We've been asking for months for basic oversight of the president and his advisors and their ties to Russia, but our chairman, Jason Chaffetz, has not lifted one finger. He has not requested a single solitary piece of paper. And think about where we are right now: General Flynn flew to Moscow to have a lavish dinner with President Putin and celebrate the Kremlin-backed media outlet, RT. According to our own U.S. intelligence officials, RT is, and I quote, 'The Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet,' end of quote.
Flynn now admits that he got paid for that trip, but he refuses to say how much he was paid. He may have violated the Constitution in the process — as a retired officer, he may not accept foreign emoluments. The Pentagon is investigating this, and we may hear back from them this week. Flynn was secretly communicating with Republican — with Russian officials at the same time Russia was attacking our democracy. Let me say that again: Flynn was secretly communicating with Russian officials at the same time Russia was attacking our democracy. Flynn may have violated the Logan Act by discussing the sanctions imposed by the United States in response to Russia's attacks. We have no idea why Flynn was doing all of this, and why he was trying desperately to help Russia. And I know he's now resigned but he's not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions.
Cummings went on to denote precisely what those questions are, and the concerns they raise regarding just what was going on inside the White House, pointedly asking, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" He noted that the committee had held multiple "emergency" hearings on Hillary Clinton, and that "if there was any emergency at this moment in the history of this country, this is the moment." He closed his remarks with a patriotic call:
Ladies and gentlemen, we are in a fight for the soul of our democracy. The question is whether we will clearly understand that this is our watch. [...] The Republicans need to join us. This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. It's not an independent issue. This is an American issue for the soul of our democracy.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi added a powerful statement at the end of the press conference, echoing Cummings' comments about what is needed from the White House, and raising a troubling possibility:
PELOSI: I think it's important to note, because most people don't know what the National Security Council is and how important it is. The person who's the chairman, the president's National Security Advisor, is the person who manages all of the committees that we're talking about — the Department of State, we're talking about the Department of Homeland Security, we're talking about the Department of Defense, we are talking about foreign affairs, and all of the aspects of our national security. So clearly, the president exercised very poor judgment in putting in somebody that he couldn't even manage himself. Thank God he's gone.
But again, it raises so many questions about the judgment of the president. And I will take it one step further — and my colleagues don't have to associate themselves with this — but my fear is, now we will have as a shadow National Security Adviser, Bannon, and his national security vision influencing all the agencies of government that I mentioned, as well as advising the president. So this is deadly, deadly serious, what's happening now. And there's a chance to right the course, to right the course. There's a great deal of respect for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security. So there's some people there who may be able to right the ship. But right now, this is a raging example of a president who is incompetent, reckless, and strategically incoherent.
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) offered a crucial observation in a statement, noting that Flynn's resignation "is just the tip of the iceberg for an Administration careening toward disaster."
And in a joint statement from Cummings and Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, they noted the dissonance between the administration's recent messaging and the reality of what we are witnessing:
Just a few hours before he resigned, Kellyanne Conway said Mr. Trump had “full confidence in Flynn.” The reality is General Flynn was unfit to be the National Security Advisor, and should have been dismissed three weeks ago. Now, 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.
The vehement language and the readiness to fight from the House Democrats is a relief alongside the ever-increasing miasma of duplicity and treacherous actions on the part of the Trump administration. Trump may have assumed office with a massive popular vote loss, and may lack even a small mandate, but he and his team are now in charge of this country, and they owe the American people real answers.