Trump, Democrats disagree on scandalous aspect of Flynn resignation

Rep. Red Deutch, D-Fla., spoke to WJLA from Capitol Hill on Feb. 15, 2017. (SBG)

In the wake of the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted that the true scandal is not his staff’s contacts with Russia but instead the intelligence community’s leaks to the media about them.

“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday morning, he claimed that reports about Russian “nonsense” are “fake news” and “merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.”

He then accused the NSA and the FBI of illegally providing information to the “failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost.” “Just like Russia,” he added.

Prior to his inauguration, Trump compared the intelligence community to “Nazi Germany” because information about classified briefings had leaked.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, concurred that potentially illegal leaks for political purposes merit further scrutiny.

“You may like or not like Mr. Trump, but he is our duly elected president,” he said Wednesday. “…To have people within the agencies apparently undermining any president, it’s just completely inappropriate for them to do that.”

Stewart also expressed concern that the leaks have revealed U.S. intelligence-gathering methods, and they could damage the faith politicians and the public have in the intelligence community.

“If the perception is that they’ve become politicized, that’s very bad for us as leaders but it’s also bad for the American people,” he said.

Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, also criticized those passing secret information to the press.

“In a democracy like ours, it is wrong, it is absolutely wrong and it is destructive to our system of government for unelected bureaucrats to leak such information to the national news media,” he said.

Johnson observed that there are procedures in place for whistleblowers to come forward with information through Congress or an inspector general's office that should be utilized instead.

“Releasing it to the media in a character assassination like was done here, that’s not good for our country,” he said.

House Democrats were far more concerned about the information revealed by those leaks. Reports on Thursday indicated Trump aides had communications with Russians during the campaign despite their past denials of that.

“I think the American people have a right to know what happened,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.

He and others have issued a bipartisan call for a thorough investigation of Russia’s activities, but he fears House Republican leaders are unwilling to exercise their oversight authority on this president.

“That needs to happen so the American people can have confidence that the decisions being made by this White House aren’t being influenced by Russia’s wants and desires,” he said.

Deutch also questioned Trump’s renewed attacks on the integrity of the intelligence agencies charged with protecting the country.

“I believe the men and women who serve in our intelligence community,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives orchestrated the hacking of email accounts belonging to Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in an effort to undermine Clinton’s campaign. Trump frequently praised the release of those documents by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the election.

“Russia is a powerful and dangerous player in the world,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla. She argued reported communication between the Trump campaign and Russia merits a full independent investigation.

Frankel also suggested hypocrisy on the part of Republicans who eagerly scrutinized the Obama administration and promised strict oversight of Clinton if she were elected, but who now seem unmotivated to do the same for Trump.

“If this was a Democratic president that was in office and these revelations came out, there wouldn’t be one investigation,” she said. “There’d be nine investigations.”

House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, acknowledged that some contacts between Flynn and his Russian counterparts may turn out to have been improper, but not enough is known about what was discussed to make that judgment.

“I think we need to drive on, we need to investigate what needs to be investigate in all areas always and let’s move the country forward,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., painted the turmoil of the last week as emblematic of the struggles all new presidents face.

“Anytime you have some leaks its concerning,” he said, “but I’ll also tell you every new administration goes through a bit of a growth period where they have to get their sea legs.”

With a president who is not a politician and Cabinet members with relatively little political experience still working their way through the Senate, he expects some of these issues to resolve themselves in the months ahead.

“There is uncertainty and there is a period of time where you’re going to have to work through this process, and I think the administration is doing that,” LaHood said.

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