Work in Washington slowed to a plod Monday as the House Intelligence Committee’s disagreements over the Russia probe again bled into public view and President Donald Trump spent the day accusing Democrats of serious crimes.
The Intelligence panel voted Monday evening, unanimously, in favor of releasing a Democratic memo rebutting one compiled by Chairman Devin Nunes, made public last week, that alleges senior law enforcement officials improperly secured warrants in the Russia election meddling investigation.
Meanwhile, Trump lashed out at Democrats and drew a red line in immigration talks as senators struggled to strike a deal.
House Intelligence members dominated center stage — with some competition from the president, who accused a senior Democrat of leaking classified information and labelled other party members as “treasonous” — all while the government lurched toward another funding shutdown on Thursday.
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The rebuttal memo from the panel’s Democrats now heads to the White House for a security review, which is necessary before it can be released by Congress.
The Republican legislative agenda already contained long-shot items, but with the Democratic memo possibly in public view soon and the Intelligence panel’s GOP leadership planning to release more of their own, the bad blood could push the parties further apart at crunch time.
White House aides are not committing to releasing the Democratic document with the same gusto they did last week with the Republican version. “We will be considering it just as we did the Nunes memo,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday. “Which is, to allow for a legal review, national security review led by the White House Counsel’s Office.”
That is a much different stance from one the White House took a week ago after the Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release the GOP memo. Trump committed to making that document public before he even read it.
The president set off alarms on Friday when he did not rule out using Republicans’ memo as grounds to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
On Monday, Shah addressed those concerns, saying “there’s no consideration about any personnel moves at the DOJ.”
Business as usual?
Michael Steel, who was a senior aide to former Speaker John A. Boehner, said the battle over the House memos should not derail work on other matters.
“The furor over the memo is just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Russia investigation and its offshoots,” he said. “It’s been background noise — in some form or fashion — for over a year, and shouldn’t make it harder to reach agreement on other issues, like spending, immigration, and infrastructure.”
Still, should Trump keep the Democrats’ rebuttal memo under wraps, it would likely set off a new firestorm. The president on Monday made his feelings clear about congressional Democrats and the Intelligence committee’s ranking member, Adam B. Schiff of California.
Trump used what was an official White House event in Ohio, ostensibly about the GOP tax law, to lob a treason allegation — though with a grin — at Democrats for their chilly reactions to his State of the Union address. He dubbed them “treasonous” and “un-American” for not clapping for him. (The president’s treason allegation, however, falls far short of the standard explained in the U.S. Constitution.)
That came after Trump used his morning tweets to dub Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”
Though he provided no evidence, Trump made a major allegation, claiming Schiff “leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information” and “Must be stopped!”
Schiff fired back with his own tweet, denying the allegation and urging Trump to use his “executive time” in the mornings to strike legislative deals or do “really anything else.”
The spectacle left members of both parties frustrated as they tried to make progress on expiring government spending and the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which ends March 5.
“This was initiated by our Republican colleagues,” Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California told MSNBC. “This was and is an effort to basically say, ‘The president is vindicated, we don’t need … the Mueller investigation anymore.’”
Speier, an Intelligence Committee member, said the whole matter is counterproductive.
“We should be moving on to other issues,” she said.
On one of those other issues, immigration, Trump quashed an attempt to break the impasse before it was even out of the gate. Sens. John McCain and Chris Coons on Monday rolled out bipartisan legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children with their parents and also provide money for border security measures.
Trump immediately tweeted that their proposal was a nonstarter because it wasn’t strong enough on border security, saying such legislation was a “total waste of time.” He added that while the 5 deadline he imposed to address DACA was “rapidly approaching,” congressional Democrats “seem not to care.”