The Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to derail, undermine, and distract from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has had some crucial help from the President’s enablers on Capitol Hill.
These Trump allies have turned public committee hearings with senior intelligence officials into debates about leaks to the media. They’ve proposed bills to decapitate special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, recasting the lifelong Republican former FBI director as a liberal hack. They’ve called for additional investigations into what they describe as anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ. And of course, they’ve aimed to change the subject by attacking Hillary Clinton.
In doing all this, they’ve often appeared to put their loyalty to the president ahead of the need to conduct a full investigation into a major threat to national security.
In descending order, these are the GOP lawmakers who have most aggressively gone to bat for Trump.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)
Nunes has used his powerful perch to cast doubt on the existence of any links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and to carry out shadow probes that better suit the administration’s storyline.
First, there was his one-man “unmasking” debacle last spring. The California Republican took to the press “evidence” he received directly from the White House, describing it as proof that Obama administration officials improperly revealed the identities of Americans caught up in classified intelligence reports. After Nunes’ claims were debunked by bipartisan lawmakers and national security experts, he found himself facing a House Ethics Committee probe for allegedly mishandling classified documents. In response, Nunes temporarily recused himself from his panel’s Russia probe.
That didn’t stop him from issuing a series of subpoenas to intelligence agencies and to Fusion GPS, the firm that assembled a dossier documenting Russia’s alleged coordination with the Trump campaign. He and other House Intelligence Committee Republicans are currently hunting for evidence that top DOJ and FBI officials improperly handled the dossier.
Nunes has also put himself on the frontline of two other issues the GOP has used as counterweights to the Russia probe. In October, he announced a new probe into the debunked Uranium One scandal involving the Obama administration’s approval of a deal selling part of a company that exports uranium to Russia’s government, a move said to have benefited a donor to the Clinton Foundation. And he threatened to hold DOJ leadership in contempt of Congress for allegedly withholding information about former top FBI official Peter Strzok, who was forced off of Mueller’s team after the discovery of text messages he’d sent disparaging Trump.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Grassley began the new year by sending off Congress’s first criminal referral in the Russia probe. But the target wasn’t anyone accused of colluding with Putin’s government. Rather, it was Christopher Steele, the former British spy who put together the dossier detailing alleged collusion, and a favorite target of the right. Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) alleged that Steele lied to federal agents about his contacts with the media.
The Iowa Republican also wrote to the Justice Department suggesting that then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe may need to recuse himself from the Russia probe for matters related to his wife’s unsuccessful Democratic campaign for state office in Virginia. And he publicly questioned whether the FBI warned the Trump campaign about ties between some of its staffers and Russian officials. Both moves furthered the conservative storyline alleging anti-Trump prejudice at the bureau.
Grassley has also called for a special counsel to investigate Uranium One, and made much hay of the allegations against Strzok, announcing in December that he was opening a probe into the former FBI official’s “reported bias.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
The freshman Florida congressman in November became the first lawmaker to openly demand Mueller’s firing.
After months of calling for a second special counsel, Gaetz led a group of GOP lawmakers in introducing a resolution calling for Mueller to step down immediately because he was the head of the FBI when the Uranium One deal was approved. Gaetz called Mueller’s impartiality “hopelessly compromised” and urged other Republicans to join his cause.
The outspoken Freedom Caucus member frequently appears on Fox to float allegations that it was the DNC that collaborated with Russia. And Gaetz has said he personally warned Trump about his concerns that Mueller’s probe is “infected with bias,” putting the country at risk of a “coup d’etat.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Jordan has leveraged his seat on the House Judiciary Committee to push conspiracy theories in public hearings with senior U.S. officials.
The Ohio Republican has called for a special counsel to investigate whether Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the FBI cooperated to promote the Steele dosser. And he offered FBI director Wray his “hunch” that Strzok was personally responsible for using the dossier as justification for the FBI to “spy” on the Trump campaign.
The Freedom Caucus member kicked off 2018 with an op-ed calling for Sessions to step down for failing to plug the steady stream of leaks emanating from the DOJ on the Russia probe.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL)
DeSantis in August became the first lawmaker to propose a measure that would end Mueller’s investigation, which DeSantis has called a“fishing expedition.” It would have eliminated funding for the probe six months after the amendment’s passage, and prohibited Mueller from looking into matters that occurred prior to the June 2015 launch of Trump’s presidential campaign.
At the same time, DeSantis, who is running for governor of Florida, has argued that the dossier—which was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon before the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign took over—proved “without a shadow of a doubt” that the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)
The House Freedom Caucus Chairman co-wrote the Washington Examiner piece with Jordan calling for Sessions’ resignation over leaks.
But his op-ed campaign to change the conversation about Russia dates back far earlier. Last June, he lamented that the Democrat-led “hysterics surrounding Russia” were a concerted effort to derail Trump and Congress’ agenda. After all, Meadows reminded CNN’s readers, “no formal charge has been leveled against anyone.”
Meadows would make a similar case in a Fox News op-ed published just days before Mueller’s team announced its first charges, asserting “it’s time to move on” from investigations into Trump’s campaign and Russia. In the op-ed, he called for a special counsel to investigate matters involving Clinton and the Obama DOJ.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
In early 2017, Graham, a long-time foreign policy hawk, was questioning Trump’s softness on Russia and mocking Nunes’ “Inspector Clouseau” investigations into classified leaks. By the end of the year, Graham had changed his tune.
The veteran South Carolina senator signed off on Grassley’s letter referring Steele for criminal investigation. He alleged that Trump’s “blindspot” on Russia is “changing for the better.” And he has lent weight to calls for a second special counsel with his loud, public calls for independent investigations of the Trump-Russia dossier, Uranium One deal, and alleged anti-Trump bias at DoJ.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)
Gowdy has maintained his public support for the Russia probe and Mueller, but the House judiciary and intelligence committee member has done plenty to cast doubt on the investigation’s legitimacy.
The South Carolina lawmaker latched on to the leaks issue early on, and spent much of the House Intelligence Committee’s first hearing on Russia last March grilling then-FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers about how the press obtained classified information about Trump officials. Gowdy ran through a list of Obama officials who could have leaked ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador, even suggesting that the former President himself could have been behind it.
Gowdy has dismissed calls for a second special counsel, but has railed against leaks from and bias on Mueller’s team, recently telling CNN it was “tone-deaf” that the special counsel was unable to “find prosecutors that don’t have an ‘I’m With Her’ T-shirt on.”
Gowdy came to national prominence as the chair of the special House committee created in 2014 to investigate the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks. Many Democrats described the panel as an effort to damage Clinton.