Will Reince Priebus Become the Fall Guy for Trumpcare’s Failure?
As Washington starts to digest the spectacular failure that was President Donald Trump’s first big agenda item, the inevitable question becomes who will be blamed for essentially assuring that the administration won’t have any big legislative victories in its first 100 days. An obvious candidate? Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Sure, House Speaker Paul Ryan may be the most clear choice, but Trump has at least publicly expressed support for the lawmaker. Inside the White House, some are saying that Trump is looking at his own staff, blaming them for steering him down the wrong path.
The source close to Trump described a president who felt bamboozled by Ryan and his own staff, duped into thinking that passing health care would be the quick victory he needed to make good on a campaign promise central to his election and push forward on other policy fronts.
Trump is likely to blame Ryan and his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the source said, since he "bought" into Ryan’s plan and helped convince Trump to get on board, according to another senior administration official.
The New York Times also hears a similar message:
Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated the initial legislative strategy on the health care repeal with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsin native, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions.
Priebus would also be the most convenient fall guy, notes T.A. Frank in Vanity Fair:
Trump needs Ryan … and there’s no obvious replacement for him, either. Pence remains important as an emissary, even if his counsel will suffer a drop in value. So, if Trump needs someone to abuse, it’s going to be Reince. Perhaps Priebus will be instructed to bend over when approached by Trump, to allow for easier kicking.
With all this talk, it’s hardly surprising that some are already starting to hear that Trump could be considering getting rid of Priebus. “Source close to @POTUS says he’s being advised to replace @Reince45 & is open to possibility,” wrote Politico’s Tara Palmeri on Twitter.
Some are hearing a different message though. BuzzFeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo, for example, says that a “senior White House official” told him that the “Reince Priebus job is not in jeopardy.”
Senior White House official tells me Reince Priebus job is not in jeopardy after health care debacle.— Adrian Carrasquillo (@Carrasquillo) March 25, 2017
Others also point out that some Trump loyalists inside the White House have been wanting to get Priebus fired for weeks. (Case in point: Earlier this month, Politico published a story under the headline “Knives are out for Reince.”) So it should hardly be surprising that some are taking the opportunity to push that angle more after the health care debacle. Whether Trump will suddenly be willing to listen to the anti-Priebus faction inside the White House after the health care failure remains to be seen.
Bannon Pushed Trump to Use Health Care Vote to Write Up “Enemies List”
Following the embarrassing collapse of Trumpcare, everyone is asking the same question, What went wrong? And while there are several different angles to answer the question, there seems to be one constant, the president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has no patience for negotiating with Congress and is more comfortable with threats than compromise. The New York Times reports that Bannon kept on pushing President Donald Trump to pressure the health care vote to move forward so that an “enemies list” could be compiled of all those who voted against the measure. The president’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, was also pushing the same idea.
Unsurprisingly, Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly told the president that making enemies out of fellow Republicans in the House was not the smartest idea considering that he would need them for other pieces of legislation in the future. In the end, Trump decided to listen to Ryan and back down.
The Times story appears to confirm earlier reports from the Daily Beast that quoted an official saying that Bannon called on the president “to keep a shit list on this.” The unnamed official added: “Not sure if I’d call it an ‘enemies list,’ per se, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.” Another aide described it as a “hit list” for Republicans who were not loyal to the president.
Earlier, Bannon had basically told Republican lawmakers they had no choice but to vote for the bill. In Axios, Mike Allen writes that when members of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, Bannon had a very undiplomatic opening line: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill,” Bannon said. Needless to say, the lawmakers were decidedly unimpressed. “The last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either,” one lawmaker answered.
U.S. Airstrikes May Have Killed As Many As 200 Civilians in Mosul
The U.S.–led military coalition in Iraq is investigating reports that as many as 200 civilians were killed in recent airstrikes it carried out in Mosul. In the meantime, Iraqi military leaders have called for a pause in the push to retake Mosul from ISIS as things get clerared up.
For now, the Pentagon has said that an initial review confirmed that airstrikes did take place on March 17 at locations where lots of civilians were reportedly killed when buildings collapsed. Investigators are now trying to determine whether the buildings collapsed because of the airstrikes or whether ISIS used the airstrikes “as an opportunity to detonate an explosive in the building,” reports the New York Times. A local lawmaker and two residents claim the airstrikes may have detonated an ISIS truck filled with explosives that was in the area, and that’s what caused several surrounding buildings to collapse.
The U.S.–led coalition said on Saturday that it had carried out the airstrikes at the request of Iraqi forces. “The Coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality,” according to a statement. “Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the Coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods.”
Rescue workers have pulled more than 140 bodies from the rubble of three buildings that collapsed in the aftermath of the airstrikes, and dozens more are thought to remain buried. If confirmed, it could mean the March 17 airstrikes were among the deadliest for civilians since the United States first invaded Iraq in 2003.
The increasing concern about casualties in Mosul comes as senior military leaders are also investigating claims of large numbers of civilian deaths in two separate airstrikes in Syria. In total, as many as 350 civilians may have been killed, according to NBC News.
Today in Conservative Media: AHCA Failure Proves Trump Is a True Artist of the Deal
A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.
After the American Health Care Act’s collapse on Friday, conservative media outlets rushed to process the news and, in typical form, assure their audiences that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Most publications and commentators were clear on one thing: None of this was Trump’s fault. To the contrary, it might well be a mark of his genius.
Maintaining an idea that he had pushed in the past, Sean Hannity continued to assert that Trump had done “everything in his power to get this bill across the finish line.” He promised, however that “snowflake Democrats … would not be smiling for long” and reiterated a claim supported by the president, warning that premiums would continue to skyrocket:
The exemplar of the Trump-as-master-strategist line came, however, not from Hannity, but from a Breitbart essay arguing that Trump had acted according to principles he laid out in The Art of the Deal. Facing “irreconcilable factions,” it proposed, the president knew that he had to “bring them together — to ‘deliver the goods,’ a key rule in The Art of the Deal. But first he must show them ‘the downside’ — and convince them they will fail on their own.” The article proceeded to lay out Trump’s next moves before ending with a quotation from The Matrix: Reloaded.
A Gateway Pundit post suggested that the debacle had been deliberate, a reminder that Trump is a true artist of the deal:
Did Trump give Paul Ryan just enough rope to hang himself? It is no secret that Paul Ryan has contempt for President Trump and is working to sabotage him. This may [be] Trump’s plan to have Paul Ryan ousted and replaced.
Many outlets also reported uncritically on the president’s suggestion that Democrats were at fault. Fox News, for example, headlined one article “Trump Blames Democrats for GOP Health Care Bill Failure, Says ObamaCare Is ‘Imploding’ ” and Breitbart ran a post titled “Donald Trump Blames Democrats for Health Care Failure, Promises Better Plan in the Future.”
Though that Breitbart article noted that Trump had “thanked his staff, Republican leadership, and even Speaker Paul Ryan,” the site challenged Ryan in other articles. In a lengthy, reported “exclusive,” Breitbart suggested that Ryan might be on the way out as speaker and claimed that White House sources indicated Trump was upset with Ryan: “House Republicans are also questioning whether Ryan can remain as Speaker after this abysmal failure.” LifeZette also featured Ryan on its list of the effort’s most prominent losers, writing, “In the biggest test of his leadership, Friday’s outcome is a big, fat failure.”
Gateway Pundit, meanwhile, took the opportunity to identify an unusual comparative metric:
Compared to President Trump, Paul Ryan’s House of Representatives looks stagnant! The President has signed 38 game changing executive actions to six rather insignificant pieces of legislation signed into law since the President’s inauguration.
Others pointed the finger at the House Freedom Caucus, which was, the Daily Caller claimed, “taking heat for thwarting Republicans’ Obamacare replacement bill.” In a Fox News editorial titled, “Freedom Caucus Drives Dagger Into Heart of Young Trump Presidency,” commentator Elizabeth Peek embraced this angle, writing that “the damage is not limited to healthcare reform … [Trump’s] credibility and credentials now lie in tatters. All that optimism that has stoked the stock market and boosted investment plans – all that may fade.”
A few dissenting voices on the right did acknowledge that Trump may have played a role in the bill’s failure. The editors of National Review, for example, attributed it not just to “Speaker Ryan’s high-handedness,” but also to “President Trump’s erratic leadership.” The publication went on to suggest that Republicans should continue working on the issue, though doing so would require “more patient cajoling and less last-minute bullying.” A second National Review article argued that Trump’s lack of interest in the bill’s details was his greatest fault:
A strong leader can help sort out conflicting priorities, but there’s little sign that President Trump had any interest in that role. Throughout the last days of arm-twisting, there were ominous reports that he was quite passionately attempting to persuade House Republicans to pass the bill, without really understanding what was in the legislation that made them so reluctant to vote for it.
Amid the uncertainty, some conservative publications still found time for some schadenfreude of their own. The Daily Caller, in particular, mocked House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi who was “briefly stalled by an uncooperative microphone” when she “and several other House Democrats held a press conference on Friday afternoon to gloat over Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to cancel the vote.”
On Facebook, a post from Trump’s official account promised that Obamacare would “explode” but everything would be fine:
Conspiracy Nutjob Alex Jones Apologizes for Spreading Pizzagate Fake News
It was a rare sight. A media personality who has made his name by spreading patently false information and crackpot conspiracy theories, apologized for one of his favorite fake news items. Alex Jones of Infowars posted a surprising six-minute video on his website in which he read a legal-sounding document apologizing for his role in spreading claims that a Washington pizzeria was home to a child sex-trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. Jones specifically addressed his apology to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong—which was thrust into the spotlight last year with what became the most stark example of how fake news spread during the presidential campaign.
“In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said.
Despite the apology, Jones still distanced himself from the fake news, making it sound as though he was a victim of false information rather than one of the main people responsible for spreading the falsehoods. “We were participating in a discussion that was being written about by scores of media outlets, in one of the most hotly contested and disputed political environments our country has ever seen,” Jones said. “We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us. This was an ever-evolving story, which had a huge amount of commentary about it across many media outlets.”
Although it isn’t clear what motivated Jones to apologize now, fear of legal action may have come into play. Alefantis wrote Jones a letter in February demanding an apology. And even though he doesn’t threaten legal action, under state law Jones had one month to retract or apologize to avoid a lawsuit. The one-month deadline was Friday.
The apology also came on the same day as the man who fired a shot inside the Washington, D.C. restaurant last year due to his obsession with the Pizzagate conspiracy pled guilty to weapons and assault charges as part of a plea deal. Edgar Welch, 28, from North Carolina admitted that he traveled to Comet Ping Pong carrying a rifle and a revolver to “self-investigate” Pizzagate. Welch faces anywhere from 18 to 24 months in prison for the federal charge of transporting firearms through state lines, and 18 to 60 months for the D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.
Trump on the AHCA’s Failure: “It’s Been a Very Interesting Experience”
On Friday afternoon, President Trump delivered remarks on the failure of the American Health Care Act. “We were very close,” he said from the Oval Office. “It was a very tight margin. We have no Democrat support, no votes from the Democrats. They weren't going to give us a single vote.” The president went on to say that the plan now is to let Obamacare collapse and hope the Democrats are pushed into working with the GOP on crafting a replacement. “I've been saying the last one-and-a-half years, the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode. It's exploding right now."
That is true, but Trump’s analysis before now has usually been accompanied with a caveat: Letting Obamacare fail would be terrible for the American people and a bad move. Here’s what he said on this course of action at a rally just last month:
I said to the Republicans, I said you want to do something great politically: don't do anything. Sit back for two years, let it explode. The Democrats will come and beg for us to do something, but we can't do that to the American people. We have to fix it. And we will.
Well, will they? When? Trump told reporters there’s no rush. “I never said—I guess I’m here, what, 64 days? I never said repeal and replace Obamacare—you’ve all heard my speeches—I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.”
"I will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace,” he continued. “And it will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.
In any case, on Friday, Trump told reporters repeatedly that Obamacare is certain to fail —“It's imploding and soon will explode”— and that he holds no hard feelings about Paul Ryan and House Republicans having botched this effort to undo it. “I’ve had a great relationship with the Republican Party—it seems that both sides like Trump and that’s good,” he said. “I'm not going to speak badly about anybody within the party.”
What was important about the AHCA’s collapse, Trump now realizes, were the lessons we all learned along the way:
I think this is something that certainly was an interesting period of time. We all learned a lot. We learned about loyalty, we learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules obviously in both the Senate and in the House.
And with that, this Very Special Episode of the Trump presidency is over. “Certainly for me,” the president said, “it's been a very interesting experience.” Likewise.
Trump Says He Never Promised to Quickly Repeal Obamacare. Here’s a Bunch of Times He Promised Exactly That.
Republican leaders in the House pulled their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare from the floor on Friday afternoon once it became clear that it did not have the votes needed to pass. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Donald Trump suggested that this was simply all part of his plan. “You've all heard my speeches,” he said. “I never said ‘repeal it and replace it within 64 days.’ I have a long time. But I want to have a great health care bill and plan—and we will and it will happen.”
Hmm. That doesn’t sound quite right.
Here is a small sampling of all the times Donald Trump promised that repealing and replacing Obamacare would be a quick and relatively painless lift, one that he would get to right away.
Jan. 24, 2015, in a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit:
“Somebody has to repeal and replace Obamacare. And they have to do it fast and not just talk about it.”
Feb. 9, 2016, on Twitter:
We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare - and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2016
Feb. 22, 2016, at a campaign rally:
“Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced. … You’re going to end up with great health care for a fraction of the price and that’s gonna take place immediately after we go in. Okay? Immediately. Fast. Quick.”
March 3, 2016, on his campaign website (on a page that has since been deleted):
“On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.”
Oct. 27, via the Detroit News:
“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare. What a mess,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd of thousands at the SeaGate Convention Center in downtown Toledo, his second of three Thursday rallies in Ohio.
Nov. 1, via Politico:
“When we win on Nov. 8 and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare. We have to do it,” Trump said Tuesday afternoon in an address on the Affordable Care Act in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
“I will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace,” he continued. “And it will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.”
Nov. 7, via Roll Call:
“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump told a crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during his final campaign rally on Monday evening. “It has just been announced that the residents of Michigan are going to experience a massive, double-digit premium hike, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s not going to matter that much, honestly, because we’re going to terminate it. You’re not going to have to worry about it, OK? Don’t worry.”
Jan. 10, via the New York Times:
President-elect Donald J. Trump demanded on Tuesday that Congress immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass another health law quickly. His remarks put Republicans in the nearly impossible position of having only weeks to replace a health law that took nearly two years to pass.
“We have to get to business,” Mr. Trump told The New York Times in a telephone interview. “Obamacare has been a catastrophic event.” Mr. Trump appeared to be unclear both about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress and about the difficulty of his demand — a repeal vote “probably some time next week” and a replacement “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
Jan. 11, via Politico:
The president-elect, addressing reporters at a news conference in New York, said his administration will submit a plan to repeal and replace the law, known as Obamacare, “almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter” his pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, is confirmed.
“It will be repeal and replace,” Trump said. “It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day. Could be the same hour.”
I guess in the president's defense, he's right: He never said 64 days.
It’s Beginning to Seem Possible That Donald Trump Is Not in Fact “the Ultimate Closer”
Earlier this week Politico reported something very funny:
Members of Speaker Paul Ryan’s team, trying to appeal to Trump’s ego and deal-making sensibilities, have begun calling him the “closer” or the "ultimate closer.”
A Trump associate had used a similar superlative in a conversation with Breitbart.com the week before:
“The President gave Ryan a chance,” one source close to the President said. “If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”
And here's a March 9 CNN article:
"He gets the complexity of this," a senior administration official said. "It's a sell for him," the official said, adding that Trump sees himself as the ultimate deal maker and "I think he's willing to cut deals," to get this legislation passed, the official said.
Trump, the ultimate deal stud, met personally with holdouts in the House's Freedom Caucus on Thursday. Here's how that went:
Trump subsequently turned to perhaps the most fearsome weapon in a master negotiator's arsenal: the ultimatum.
And here's how that ended up:
It really is beginning to seem like maybe Donald Trump is not so much a master negotiator and businessman as he is a flimflam bullshitter who's only still rich because he inherited a fortune large enough to hire lawyers who, so far, have always been just good enough to keep him a few steps ahead of everyone he's ripped off. Eventually, though, we all pay the piper.
Republicans Cancel AHCA Vote Despite Trump Demand That It Be Held Friday
A day after Donald Trump demanded that Republican House leaders hold a Friday vote on the flailing American Health Care Act Obamacare replacement bill—and hours after he reportedly repeated his demand in a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan—the AHCA has been pulled from consideration and will not be voted on. Trump told the Washington Post's Robert Costa that, at least "in the near future" (in Costa's words), the bill will not be taken up again.
The AHCA was by opposed by Democrats and a number of moderate Republicans, who believed it would cut coverage too severely—but also by hard-line conservatives who believed it didn't go far enough in cutting spending and deregulating the insurance industry. Various running tallies had indicated that the bill was between four and 15 votes short of being able to pass.
Despite his Thursday ultimatum and reports that his wishes had not changed Friday, Trump claimed to Costa that it was his decision to pull the bill. Various anonymous sources have also already begun suggesting that Trump didn't really want to pursue health care legislation upon taking office but was persuaded to do so by Paul Ryan and chief of staff Reince Priebus. That's going to be a tough row to hoe, though, given the number of times candidate Trump promised that he would replace Obamacare immediately:
We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare - and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2016
The political implications of Republicans' failure to replace the Affordable Care Act after seven years of claiming they were ready to do so at any moment will no doubt be hashed over for the next two to 100 years; for now, Obamacare and its massive if flawed expansion of American health coverage remain the law of the land.
The Trump-Russia Investigation Is a Farce
In a sideshow to all that other drama happening on Capitol Hill on Friday, the House Intelligence Committee descended further into confusing farce with another set of dueling press conferences between its top-ranking Republican and Democratic members.
First up was Republican Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who announced to reporters that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to testify before the committee. Manafort is a central player in the Trump-Russia drama. In addition to allegedly receiving off-the-books payments when he worked for Russian-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an AP report this week suggested that, prior to working for Trump, Manafort had worked on a plan to influence politicians and the media on Putin’s behalf. Nunes would not say if that testimony would be public or closed.
Nunes also announced that FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, who testified in a public hearing on Monday, would return to the Hill for a second briefing behind closed doors. It’s not clear why they have to come back, but Nunes specified that it is not related to the announcement he made on Wednesday that he’s seen documents showing that the intelligence community incidentally collected and then disseminated communications by the Trump transition team. Nunes also said that a planned public hearing on Tuesday with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had been postponed.
The last announcement in particular caused Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff to go ballistic, by his standards anyway:
BREAKING: Chairman just cancelled open Intelligence Committee hearing with Clapper, Brennan and Yates in attempt to choke off public info.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 24, 2017
Schiff then held his own press conference in which he essentially accused Nunes of coordinating with the White House to scuttle the Russia investigation. “What other explanation can there be?” he said of the decision to postpone the hearing. He also said that members of the committee had still not seen the documents collected by Nunes in what Schiff called a “dead of night excursion.” He called the fact that Nunes had shared the information with the Trump administration and held a press conference at the White House “important in terms of understanding what's really going on here.”
The strange events of Wednesday—during which the Republican head of the congressional committee tasked with investigating possible Trump-Russia connections went to Trump with information he had gleaned during that investigation—have only fueled growing skepticism, including from members of his own party, about whether Nunes can conduct an impartial investigation. A Democratic member of the committee accused the chairman of running “his own intelligence service.”
Swalwell says Dems have still seen "nothing" from Nunes: "It looks like he's running his own intelligence service, at this point."— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) March 24, 2017
It also underscored the degree to which different members of this committee are investigating completely different things. For Republicans, this is about the leaking of classified information meant to damage Trump, notably the conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that forced Flynn’s resignation. There’s also the new but related question of whether the people connected to the Trump campaign, observed during routine surveillance of foreign targets, were improperly “unmasked”—that is, were their identities documented by intelligence agents rather than hidden as would normally be the case for U.S. citizens swept up in incidental collection. (Here’s a useful explainer on the concept.)
Hanging over all of this are the allegations Trump made on Twitter on March 4, and mentioned again in his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that Obama had tapped the phones in Trump Tower during the transition. Nunes reiterated again Friday, as he has before, that “there was no wiretapping of Trump Tower. That didn't happen.” However, he has also previously suggested that Trump’s claims shouldn’t be taken literally and may have instead referred to a broader pattern of surveillance. (This is clearly not what they referred to.) Nunes’ statement about incidental collection on Wednesday certainly did not vindicate Trump’s claim but seemed calculated to give the White House just enough to claim vindication, which Trump and his spokesman did.
For Democrats, this investigation is about the actual degree of Russian interference in the election and what role the Trump campaign itself might have played in it. It’s possible we may finally be getting closer to learning some hard facts on this question, which may be the motivation for the torrent of bullshit unleashed by Nunes over the past week.
Comey confirmed on Monday that there’s an ongoing investigation of links between Trump associates and the Russian government. CNN reported on Wednesday that FBI officials say they have information suggesting that people connected with the campaign were communicating with the Russian government to coordinate the release of hacked information to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Those officials say they can’t prove this collusion yet, but that it’s now a large focus of the investigation. Schiff also said on Wednesday that he’s seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of coordination between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
This is what Democrats have been waiting for. After months of leaks, anonymous quotes from intelligence officials, and investigations by both government agencies and the media, we’ve seen plenty of evidence that there were ethically dubious people with vague ties to Russia in Trump’s orbit. What we haven’t seen is any hard evidence that Trump or his associates were actively working with the Russians to sabotage Clinton. In January, the agencies’ released a declassified version of their assessment that Vladimir Putin was actively trying to help Trump, consisting almost entirely of previously available information, much of it dubiously interpreted. Nearly half of it consisted of a long and irrelevant report on the Kremlin-funded cable network RT. So, despite the reports of the past week, some skepticism is still warranted about whether there is hard proof of collusion, and if so, that we’ll ever see it.
At this point, it looks pretty obvious that the administration’s allies in Congress are working to prevent the investigation into Trump’s Russia ties. It’s less obvious that the investigation itself is turning up the goods.