The Slatest

It Took Democrats Six Months in Power to Conclude That They Should Maybe Ask Michael Flynn About Russia

Nadler, holding papers, speaks into a microphone while Cummings stands behind him.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings at the Capitol on June 11.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Did everyone have a nice July Fourth? Good, good. The members of Congress enjoyed their break too and are now back in D.C. The big news out of the Democratic caucus in the House, aside from the infighting and crap-talking, is that the chairmen in charge of the two committees investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia (Judiciary and Intelligence) have decided to begin the process of attempting to hear testimony from Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser whose discussions with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions constitute the fulcrum of the Trump administration’s corrupt relationship with the country whose illegal intelligence operations helped it gain power.

To be specific: On Thursday, Jerrold Nadler of Judiciary issued subpoenas for Flynn (along with several individuals connected to Russia-related obstruction-of-justice issues), while on Tuesday Intel Chairman Adam Schiff said that he has contacted a lawyer for Flynn in hopes of scheduling testimony. (Flynn had previously ignored an Intel subpoena that called for him to testify by this week.)

So let’s review the timeline on Michael Flynn and the Democrats investigating Trump’s connections to Russia.

• Feb. 9, 2017: A Washington Post story reveals that Flynn—who had recently done business with several Russian entities—had secretly discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period, a conversation that suggests a potential quid-pro-quo relationship between Trump and Russia.

• Dec. 1, 2017: Flynn agrees to plead guilty to lying to investigators about those discussions, suggesting that he attempted to cover them up because he was concerned that they were improper.

• January 2019: Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

• January 2019–now: ???

One thing that Nadler and Schiff might say to explain their seemingly lethargic approach is that they were waiting for Robert Mueller to conclude his own investigation into the issues involved. But Mueller’s conclusions became public three months ago, after which observers noted immediately that his report was limited in its discussion of Flynn’s activities in a way that suggested Mueller had decided they constituted a counterintelligence liability (which was outside the scope of the report) rather than a direct criminal conspiracy. As was actually pointed out in a subsequent hearing by a Republican senator, the national-security loophole that Russia seems to have used to cultivate Trump advisers like Flynn and Paul Manafort remains wide open. Trump, meanwhile, said in June that he would be willing to accept foreign election assistance again if it were offered to him in 2020.

You’d think all of this would be of immediate concern to the Democrats tasked with protecting the country’s legal and intelligence interests, but that is apparently not the case. Issuing the subpoenas is not even an urgent move itself, really, given that so many Trump figures have been able to delay accountability to Congress indefinitely simply by ignoring its requests and betting (correctly, so far) that Democrats will not attempt to enforce them through the courts.

Earlier this week, writer Judd Legum posited that the similarly sleepy pace of the Ways and Means Committee’s effort to acquire Trump’s tax returns suggested that Democratic leaders, convinced that trying to oust Trump from office before next November would alienate swing voters, have decided they don’t even want to find any further information that implicates the president in criminal or corrupt behavior, because it would only make their base voters clamor harder for impeachment. It’s as good a theory as any, and one that will be put to the test next week when Robert Mueller testifies publicly. Can Democrats handle the truth?