Comey Allegations Force Reluctant House GOP To Do The Oversight Thing

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and the GOP leadership, takes questions from reporters at Republican National Committee Headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Ryan said Congress "can't deal with speculation and innuendo" and must gather all relevant information before "rushing to judgment" on President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

The “nothing to see here” mentality that has dominated congressional Republicans’ approach to President Trump’s growing pile of scandals finally cracked Tuesday night.

With the new allegation that Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to tamp down the Russia investigation, the House GOP is now making at least a public showing of exercising its oversight responsibilities.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced Tuesday evening that he was requesting documents from the FBI related to the Comey allegations, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stressed that Congress’ “job is to get the facts and t0 be sober about doing that.”

“Look, there has been a lot of reporting lately. I think that requires close examination,” Ryan said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

The House leadership’s acknowledgment that deeper digging was necessary – though how much and how aggressively remains to be seen – comes after months of turning a blind eye to other questions of inappropriate behavior raised about the Trump administration at the outset of his presidency.

There are signs that Republicans aren’t being totally earnest in their freshly-minted crusade for more information. Chaffetz’s letter to the FBI requests Comey memos not just for the first few months of the Trump administration but dating all the way back to the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009.

GOP lawmakers are still insistent that they will stay focused on their agenda of repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes, even as a drip-drip-drip of leaks about Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing continues. But now, there is potential for a paper trail – in the form of memos Comey was said to have written about his conversations with Trump – to be obtained and analyzed.

“The Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman has requested the memo in question, and I am actually interested in the entire compendium of Comey memos. I think that might be something of interest to the Congress,” Rep, Michael Burgess (R-TX) said Wednesday morning.

Coming out of their regular House GOP conference meeting, Republicans mostly ducked questions from reporters about the potential that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice in trying to quash the Russia probe. Wednesday is their first full day back after Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey last week, and the reports since then that Comey wrote a memo detailing a February request from the President to lay off of his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

A few GOP members were willing to pretzel-twist themselves into a defense of Trump, but some were more circumspect with their desire to see a fact-finding process play out.

“I’m a process guy. I believe that there are processes that are available to us, organic to us, in both the House and the Senate, and I believe that we need to let those processes unfold,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-AK) told reporters, adding that lawmakers needed to have a “Joe Friday mentality”

“Just the facts, and it will be the facts that will allow us to go from that point forward should there be a necessity to move in another direction,” he said.

More than a few GOP members said that they would like Comey to publicly testify, in addition to calling for the release of the memo at the center of the latest reports.

“If he’s got a charge to make, he needs to make it,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said. But he, like most Republicans, was not ready to join Democrats in their call for a special prosecutor or select committee to intervene.

“Until you have a charge of criminal activity – and I would certainly consider a charge by the former director of the FBI a credible charge – but until that’s made, you don’t really have anything to justify a special prosecutor,’ Cole said.

One of the few Republicans who has called for a special prosecutor, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), took the extra step of floating the possibility of impeachment Wednesday.

“If the allegations are true, yes,” he said, when asked if what the Comey memo detailed was grounds for impeachment.

According to members, the details of the Trump allegations weren’t discussed in the conference meeting, but rather, it was broadly acknowledged that steps were being taken to look into them and they should refrain from speculating.

“The Speaker stressed that we still had oversight responsibilities no matter who’s in the White House and  that we’re going to fully perform those oversight responsibilities,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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