The vote Tuesday on Russia sanctions is a key test for House Republicans from California and elsewhere: Are they patriots who will protect America, or will they put misplaced loyalty to President Donald Trump first?
A veto-proof majority for the bill – which would impose new sanctions to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election and also limit Trump’s power to lift them – is important because of the mixed messages from the White House over whether Trump will sign it.
An overwhelming vote – the Senate approved the original sanctions bill 97-2 – is also crucial to draw a line for potential constitutional crises to come. Republicans may be called upon again to stand up to Trump because it’s not unthinkable that he will seek to dismiss Robert Mueller, the special counsel on Russia. Mueller is reportedly investigating the president’s business dealings, and Trump has suggested that’s a red line that shouldn’t be crossed.
It also isn’t out of the question that Trump would consider pardoning his aides, his children and even himself in the Russia probe. In a barrage of troubling tweets over the weekend, the president declared that he has the “complete power to pardon,” then asserted that it’s “very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”
Trump also kept calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt and an attempt by Democrats to excuse Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
It’s not, and it’s Senate committees controlled by Republicans that are getting some of Trump’s closest aides to tell what they know about Russia. To avoid a public hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed to provide documents and to be interviewed.
On Monday, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in private to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Beforehand in an 11-page statement and afterward in rare public remarks and his first on Russia, he categorically denied that he colluded with Russia and said he doesn’t know of anyone else in the Trump camp who did.
Kushner wants us to believe he was clueless that Russian interests might have wanted to cultivate him. He claims he had little idea of the purpose of the meeting last June organized by Donald Trump Jr. after a Russian lawyer promised damaging material on Clinton. Kushner says he arrived late, quickly decided the session was a “waste of time” and emailed an assistant to fake an emergency so he could leave early.
In his statement, Kushner blamed an aide for prematurely submitting a security clearance form that did not disclose that meeting or more than 100 other contacts with representatives of foreign nations. They also include a meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak where Kushner reportedly suggested a communications back-channel.
Kushner has had to repeatedly add to his security form since joining the White House, and has also amended his financial disclosure 39 times since March, most recently on Friday when he listed 70 more assets. These are all unintentional oversights, he says.
But should someone that naïve and ill-informed, with that lack of attention to detail, be a top presidential adviser, responsible for a wide variety of crucial issues, including brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
More immediately, should someone like that still have access to our nation’s most important secrets? It is not too soon to demand that Kushner’s security clearance be suspended during the investigation.
Even without collusion, at some point innocent mistakes add up to incompetence. The American people deserve better.