Truth or Trump: Constitutional Crisis and What You Need to Know

Explainers | May 19, 2017

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We are in STILL in the middle of a constitutional crisis.

On May 9th, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Director Comey was in the process of leading the investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential elections, including possible connections to the Trump campaign. We’ll repeat that: Donald Trump fired the person charged with investigating his Administration. This is a big, flashing, red alarm sign for our democracy.

On May 17, in response to outrage from Indivisible groups and others around the country, the Deputy Attorney General appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as the special counsel investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. This is an important first step, but is not nearly enough. We need to be sure that many of the important facts of this investigation get aired publicly, and that Trump can’t just fire the person doing the investigation. See our explainer on different types of investigations.

This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about the defending our most basic democratic institutions and values. Your Members of Congress (MoCs) need to decide whether they’re on the side of truth, or on the side of Trump.

This document covers 5 topics:

  1.  The Crime: How Trump likely obstructed justice when he fired Comey
  2. The Motive: Mounting Evidence of Trump Camp’s Connections to Russia
  3. The Cover-Up: Current congressional investigations are a sham
  4. The Solution: We need an independent commission in addition to a special counsel
  5. Your Role: What you can ask your Senators to actually do about this

1. The Crime: How Trump likely obstructed justice when he fired Comey

All signs suggest Trump fired Comey to kill the FBI’s Russia investigation. We know that the Russia investigation was on Trump’s mind when Comey was fired, because Trump himself said that. In an interview with NBC on May 11, Trump said, “And in fact when I decided to just [fire him], I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’

Additionally, Comey created a paper trail back in February documenting that Trump had asked him to kill the Michael Flynn investigation

This is about American democracy, not political party. Whether you voted for Trump or not, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, Independent or other, this should frighten you. It is looking more and more like the President of the United States obstructed justice, and yet feels he has absolute impunity to do so. And your Senators are letting him get away with it.

2. The Motive: Mounting Evidence of Trump Camp’s Connections to Russia

Who in Trump’s camp DOESN’T have ties with Russia? The evidence linking Trump associates with the Russian government is overwhelming and seems to grow by the day. Indeed, there is clear evidence that Trump associates have:

At this point, the connections between the Trump team and Russia are such a tangled web that we can’t even explain it without using a graphic:

Graphic Source: https://swalwell.house.gov/issues/russia-trump-his-administration-s-ties

3. The Cover-Up: Current congressional investigations are a sham

Sham Russia investigations in the Senate and House. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are supposed to be handling the investigations into Russian interference, and for months they have been acting as if they were doing that. But these investigation have been a total sham. Trump officials and Republican Members of Congress in both the House and Senate have simply been wasting their timeand they’ve done it on purpose. Their goal has not been to find the truth; it’s been to obfuscate and protect Trump. For the sake of American democracy, we cannot continue to accept this.

Senate Republicans continue to shield the White House. It is no surprise that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation has been fruitlessthe chairman of the committee, Richard Burr (NC), advised candidate Donald Trump on foreign policy. And now, he’s overseeing the committee charged with investigating whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And, in a recent Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Republicans failed to probe into the White House’s failure to fire a key White House official who was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. This is a dereliction of duty.

House Republican’s investigation has been a sad joke. The House investigations into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia have also been utterly untrustworthy. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former member of the Trump transition team, violated House protocol in an effort to provide evidence for Trump’s bizarre claim that he was wiretapped during the campaign. He was forced to recuse himself temporarily after the Ethics Committee found that he may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He was denounced by Democrats and Republicans alike for his shady behavior. Now the House Committee on Ethics is conducting its own investigation—into the suspicious actions of Rep. Nunes.

In short, neither the Senate nor the House committee are carrying out a responsible investigation into these Russia ties. We can no longer wait on them to do it.

4. The Solution: We need an independent commission in addition to a special counsel

A Special Counsel is Not Enough. There are three possibilities for achieving an independent investigation, and a special counsel is just one of them.

  1. Independent commission. Congress can pass legislation creating an independent commission, which is what the Protecting our Democracy Act (H.R. 356) in the House and a similar bill introduced by Sen. Cardin (S. 27) in the Senate would do.
  2. Independent special prosecutor authorized by CongressCongress can pass a bill authorizing the appointment a special prosecutor. Given that Republicans continue to choose party over country, this not happening anytime soon. Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell can and will unilaterally squash this legislative action.
  3. Special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice can unilaterally appoint a special counsel/special prosecutor to conduct the investigation.

On May 17, in response to outrage from Indivisible groups and others around the country, the Deputy Attorney General appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as the special counsel investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. This is an important first step, but is not nearly enough. We need to be sure that many of the important facts of this investigation get aired publicly, and that Trump can’t just fire the person doing the investigation. 

Members of Congress who just want this issue to go away will try to use the special counsel as an excuse to say, “This issue is out of our hands!” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t let them shirk their responsibilities. Congress now needs to pass a law to create an independent commission, so that we can be sure that the public gets the answers it needs.

We also need to hear directly from FBI Director Comey about what Trump really did or did not do to stop the investigation. The American public needs to know just how far Donald Trump went to interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation. 

And sometime soon, Trump will attempt to appointment a replacement FBI Director. We will need to scrutinize that pick carefully, to make sure that person will actually be loyal to the law and not to Trump.

5. Your Role: What you can ask your Members of Congress to actually do about this

For Your House Representative:

Republican leadership is refusing to even allow legislation establishing an independent investigation into Russian interference to come to a vote. The Swalwell-Cummings bill, called the Protecting our Democracy Act, would establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate Russian interference.

There is only one reason for the refusal to allow such legislation: the fear that a commission would reveal politically damaging information that would harm Trump and their party.

On May 17, a bipartisan group of representatives filed a motion called a “discharge petition” that would force a vote on the Protecting our Democracy Act—but only if enough Representatives sign on in support. Right now, not every Democrat has signed the petition, and only one Republican has. This is unacceptable. Call your MoC TODAY and make sure that they’ve signed on to the Swalwell-Cummings discharge petition.

For Senators:

The country is facing a constitutional crisis, but Senators are acting like the problem has already been solved. Call on your Senator to support an independent commission, so that we can make sure we truly get the facts on this issue. Senator Ben Cardin’s bill, S.27, would establish a commission of independent experts to examine the facts regarding Russia and the 2016 election, and currently has 26 Democratic co-sponsors. If your Senator is not already co-sponsoring S. 27 (see list here), call TODAY and ask him/her to co-sponsor. This is not a time for partisanship—Senators need to know that you are counting on them to do more to stand up for our democracy.