National Security

Dems try to force vote on independent Russia probe

House Democrats are trying to force a vote on a bill that would establish an independent commission to probe Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), would launch an outside investigation into Russia’s election interference. Modeled after the 9/11 Commission, the panel would consist of a bipartisan group made up of outside experts with a dedicated full-time staff.

Cummings pinned the move on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), citing “deep concerns that the continued failure of House Republicans to take action will cause significant damage to the faith the American people have in the integrity of our committees in the House of Representatives.”

{mosads}“Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero — zero — zero — appetite for any investigation of President Trump,” Cummings said. “Instead, he appears to have minimized any oversight whatsoever.”

The petition was filed Wednesday, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) announced.

But as minority party, Democrats would need significant Republican support in order to successfully get a vote on the commission measure.

And because of parliamentary rules governing discharge petitions, even with 218 signatures, the soonest the bill could come to the floor would be the end of July. 

“Paul Ryan, by the way, could do it tomorrow,” Crowley said.

Since President Trump’s shocking dismissal of FBI Director James Comey — a decision the president has said publicly was linked to the bureau’s investigation into possible ties between members of his campaign and Russia — a number of Republicans have expressed public support for some form of independent investigation into the matter.

That groundswell appears to be growing after a bombshell report from The New York Times on Tuesday night that reported Trump asked Comey to “let go” of the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in February after misleading Vice President Pence about the content of a phone call he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

A separate report, which came Monday from The Washington Post, revealed that Trump had disclosed extremely sensitive intelligence to senior Russian officials, including Kislyak, during a meeting at the White House last week.

But verbal support alone will not be enough to allow Democrats to force a vote. 23 Republicans must put their signature on the discharge petition, a tall ask in a deeply polarized Congress.

The last time Democrats successfully used the tactic was in 2015, to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

Ryan told GOP members in a closed-door meeting Thursday morning to stick with the current process, lawmakers said. Leadership in both chambers put control of congressional investigation into Russian in the hands of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

But there are signs of increasing Republican distress with the president’s conduct, especially amongst members in vulnerable seats.

Reps. Barbara Comstock (Va.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and a handful of others had already expressed support for some form of new investigation, whether it be a special prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department, a special congressional committee or an independent commission.

That number grew following the Times report.

“It is time we look at the idea of an independent commission or special prosecutor,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told CNN Wednesday morning.

Two Republicans, Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.) and Justin Amash (Mich.), were signed on to the legislation before the revelations of this week. 

An independent commission does not supplant the need for a special prosecutor, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) argued Wednesday.

The commission lacks prosecutorial authority, he said. But it would have the appropriate staff and resources to adequately investigate the issue — unlike his committee, he claimed, which is stretched thin between the Russia investigation and its normal oversight duties.

Tags Adam Schiff Justin Amash Paul Ryan

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