The new leadership on the House intelligence committee is eager to revive the panel’s probe into the connections between Donald Trump’s camp and Russia, an urgency underscored by the latest indictment of a Trump associate accused of lying to its investigation. But three weeks into the Democratic-controlled Congress, House Republicans haven’t taken a critical step necessary for the committee to begin any work at all.
The House Republican leadership has yet to name the intelligence committee’s Republican membership for the new Congress, with the exception of retaining Devin Nunes as ranking Republican. Without doing so, the committee is stalled—no hearings, no internal business meetings. Democrats announced their membership roster on Jan. 16, adding Val Demings, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Peter Welch to their 10 current members. (This Republican intransigence was first noted by The Rachel Maddow Show.)
It’s not clear what the holdup is. “That will be announced when it is ready,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who did not address the reasons for the delay. A representative for Nunes—who does not pick the membership—did not respond to The Daily Beast's inquiries.
Thus far, Democrats on the panel are not accusing the House GOP of deliberately dragging its feet on the committee appointments. Some Democrats are hopeful the GOP will name its roster by next week. But, a Democratic committee aide said, “There is an urgency in getting all of our transcripts to Mueller that we cannot ignore.”
Friday’s indictment of Trump adviser Roger Stone underscored both that urgency and the stakes of the holdup. Among the offenses Mueller accuses Stone of committing are obstruction and false statements arising from his September 2017 testimony to the House intelligence committee, then under GOP management. Stone is the second such person to be indicted related to lying to the committee’s Russia probe, after ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
Committee Democrats suspect others of having lied or otherwise giving them misleading testimony. One, identified by Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes, is Erik Prince, the founder of mercenary company Blackwater. (Some on the panel want several witnesses back for additional testimony, including Donald Trump Jr., while stopping short of saying those others lied as well.)
Adam Schiff, the new Democratic chairman of the committee, has said for months that an early order of business for the panel is to provide Mueller with every transcript of every witness before its Russia inquiry, which may lead to additional indictments. That hasn’t happened yet—and until the Republicans formally join the committee, it can’t. Schiff, in a Friday statement following Stone’s indictment, called the transcript provision “the first order of business” facing the panel—when it can get down to business, that is.
It's pretty clear what the holdup is. House Republicans know that Schiff won't have to roller skate backwards and uphill anymore to unload all kinds of juicy information on Trump's inner circle, and the GOP is stalling for as long as possible. Mueller may want to keep his team plugging any leaks, but Schiff is going to flow like Niagra Falls and the last thing Trump wants is televised hearings with Erik Prince or Donald Jr. in the dock, under subpoena and under oath.
Now I'm pretty sure Schiff isn't going to blow a hole in the side of the Mueller probe in his rush to the front page (at least I'm very hopeful he's a better person than that) but releasing transcripts and recalling witnesses to clarify matters can definitely make Trump sweat most of his orange bronzer off.
How long McCarthy can get away with this, we'll see. If Nancy Pelosi steps in and holds a vote to change the rules, things could get bad for him very quickly (as Trump himself discovered at his own peril.) Maybe McCarthy was buying time until the shutdown was resolved, and maybe he'll keep sandbagging until February 15th, but eventually Schiff is going to get his pound of orange flesh.