WASHINGTON - This is what happened before lunch on Wednesday in the United States House of Representatives, now under new management. Congressman Adam Schiff of California, new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced that his panel would be sending 50 transcripts of testimony given in closed session to that committee by a number of witnesses on the subject of Russian ratfcking in the 2016 presidential election to Robert Mueller. Schiff also announced that the committee's investigation into said ratfcking would be reopened, and that any future witness transcripts would be made available to the public.
Moreover, Schiff stated quite clearly that the revived investigation would pursue evidence of any kind of foreign involvement with this administration* and this president* and, in doing so, took some none-too-subtle whacks at Devin Nunes, the White House lawn ornament who preceded him as chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
“During the prior Congress, the Committee began to pursue credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise related to the business interests of President Trump, his family, and his associates. The President’s actions and posture towards Russia during the campaign, transition, and administration have only heightened fears of foreign financial or other leverage over President Trump and underscore the need to determine whether he or those in his Administration have acted in service of foreign interests since taking office. Unfortunately, these and numerous other avenues of inquiry were not completed during the last Congress.
Low bridge there, Devin.
Now, in the 116th Congress, the Committee’s investigation will focus principally on five interconnected lines of inquiry, beginning with these incomplete or unexamined investigative threads:
(1) The scope and scale of the Russian government’s operations to influence the U.S. political process, and the U.S. government’s response, during and since the 2016 election;
(2) The extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, or related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests;
(3) Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates;
(4) Whether President Trump, his family, or his associates are or were at any time at heightened risk of, or vulnerable to, foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy in service of foreign interests; and
(5) Whether any actors – foreign or domestic – sought or are seeking to impede, obstruct, and/or mislead authorized investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.
The Committee may pursue additional lines of inquiry regarding matters that arise from the investigation, and it intends to cooperate with other congressional committees, as needed, on matters of overlapping interest. The Committee also plans to develop legislation and policy reforms to ensure the U.S. government is better positioned to counter future efforts to undermine our political process and national security.
Meanwhile, over at the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where Congressman Elijah Cummings finally has the gavel of his dreams, they held a hearing on House Resolution 1, the massive good government measure aimed at reforming both the mechanics and the ethics of how we elect people in this country. Cummings said:
One of the things that gave me chills when I read it was the 2016 opinion of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and there was something they said that was chilling...They talked about the legislature down there in North Carolina and this is a quote from the 4th Circuit, these are federal judges, and they said, before proposing this law, [that legislature] requested data on the use by race of certain voting practices. Upon receipt of that race data, the General Assembly enacted laws that restricted voting and registration in five different ways that disproportionately affected African Americans.
They went on to say -- And I didn't say this, the federal court said it! -- the state offered only meager explanations, even though the new restrictions targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision...One year ago today, on my mother's dying bed, a former sharecropper, her last words were, "Do not let them take our votes away from us." She had seen people harmed, beaten, trying to vote. Voting is crucial and I don't care how you look at it, there are efforts to stop people from voting. That's not right! This is not Russia. This is the United States of America. And I will fight to the death so that everyone has a right to vote."
Sharing the committee with Cummings are three of the leading lights of the new freshman class: Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tialib of Michigan, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and the frontal lobes of every conservative in America. The three rookies sat side by side in the first row of the committee, and AOC took the expert witnesses through a kind of thought experiment of all the elements of corruption that have been legitimized since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling a while back.
"Let's say I'm a really bad guy," she began. This was a fairly entertaining excursion that had a very sharp point to it. As AOC concluded:
"As we've seen, it's already super-legal for me to be a pretty bad guy, and it's even easier for the president of the United States to be one."
Not far from that hearing room, the House Judiciary Committee and its new chair, Jerrold Nadler of New York, played to a packed room on the topic of gun violence and House Resolution No. 8, a measure that would move the country toward universal background checks-a modest goal, but, hell, anything's better than what we have now, which is practically nothing. At the hearing, we were treated to a bravura performance by Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of the House's most reliable buffoons, who gave a vivid demonstration of the kind of misdirection and stalling that can be expected from the House Republicans, who woke up in November to discover they weren't running things any more.
The committee wanted to talk about gun control. Gaetz wanted to talk about...The Wall. And "illegal aliens," and I am not kidding about this, either. After the now de rigueur brandishing of the corpses of murder victims, Gaetz went into orbit.
Time and again, Mr. Chairman, we see circumstances where people illegally come into the possession of firearms. These illegal aliens did not acquire these firearms legally. In fact, Title 18 of the federal code says that it is always unlawful for an illegal alien to have a firearm. So while I appreciate folks from my state of Florida coming here and sharing their advice and their counsel with the House Judiciary Committee, I think the stories of other people who have been impacted by gun violence are relevant to our discourse because they speak to the fact that there are dangerous people who do illegal things. The question is what will ensure that that doesn't cause the massive amount of violence that we've seen in the country.
I'm encouraged by elements of legislation that have been passed in my home state of Florida that focus on red-flag circumstances, mental health...As I review HR 8, there's nothing in the bill that would've stopped what we've been discussing...I hope we will not adopt this federalization, this deprivation of constitutional rights...and as we hear the stories here, I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and the sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens. HR 8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have and that's what we're fighting for...The greatest driver of violence in the circumstances I cited was not the firearm. It was the fact that we have an immigration system that allows people to come here violently.
There was an uproar at this in the gallery and David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked Nadler if "members of Congress allowed to just make things up in support of specious arguments?" Whereupon Gaetz and ranking member Doug Collins wasted some time declaring themselves victimized by hecklers in the audience. This was pure talk-radio filibustering, and it's going to be a delightful couple of years, for sure.
But the most significant hearing came in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources. There, under the leadership of new chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the committee held the first hearing on the climate crisis to take place in the House for over a decade. This is remarkable enough when you consider all the natural disasters that have occurred in this country since 2009. The featured witnesses were two governors, Democrat Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Republican Charlie Baker of the Commonwealth (God save it!).
Both men brought the straight dope, Cooper having lived through two years of catastrophic flooding, and Baker not only talking about the threat both states share from powerful ocean storms, but also the peril to New England's billion-dollar fishing industry caused by a steadily warming ocean that is, for example, chasing lobsters north. Baker, it should be said, tap-danced vigorously around this issue when he ran for governor. But, now in his second term, he's lived through enough wild weather to be convinced of what's plainly going on.
“We understand the science," Baker said, "and we know the impacts are real because we are experiencing them firsthand.”
Cooper was even more graphic.
Scientists have found that climate change makes weather more erratic. It makes storms larger and more powerful and intensifies heavy rainfalls and droughts. North Carolinians unfortunately know this the hard way. We’ve weathered two so-called 500-year floods in two years and three in fewer than 20 years. In the Western North Carolina mountains, volatile weather has caused mudslides, damaged infrastructure, cost apple growers valuable crops and forced ski areas to close mid-season, hurting local businesses and putting jobs in jeopardy.
In Central North Carolina, soaring summer temperatures have killed poultry and crops, costing farmers critical income. Fort Bragg and Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, two of the many important military installations we’re proud to have located in our state, were recently listed at current and future risk for wildfires and recurrent flooding, respectively, in a U.S. Department of Defense report on effects of our changing climate. And the worst damage has been in Eastern North Carolina, which is now more vulnerable than ever to devastating storms and floods.
The Republicans on the committee, with the possible exception of Garrett Graves, who's losing his district in southern Louisiana by the yard, by and large are from the What, Me Worry? school of climate denial, perfect examples of how the Republican Party has booted the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot into the Great Dismal Swamp. (Tom McClintock of California, for example, has been known to pooh-pooh Earth's climate crisis by pointing out that Pluto and the moons of Neptune are warming, too.) But the place is under new management now, and there are signs of life stirring in a lot of different places.
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