As Republicans prepare to cede control of the House of Representatives to the incoming Democratic majority, the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees have closed down their joint investigation into FBI and DOJ handling of the Clinton email scandal, and the counterintelligence operation that targeted the Trump election campaign team in 2016 and early 2017. In what seems like a final act of frustration, the respective committee chairmen, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC), penned a letter outlining the many unresolved issues surrounding both the Clinton and Trump investigations.
Their message was clear: When House Democrats shut down any ongoing investigations into these matters – as they have vowed to do – the Senate and Justice Department must continue the search for the facts and truth behind the events of 2016.
Passing the Torch
Goodlatte and Gowdy did not intend to lay out, within their letter, the entire case for further investigation. The findings of their respective committees, in these matters, are already known. Rather, the two Republicans apparently intended to emphasize the fact that just enough – in the way of mismanagement, breaking of rules and established protocols, and inappropriate political bias – had been uncovered by their committees to warrant continued scrutiny and fact-finding. Both Gowdy and Goodlatte are retiring from politics when the 115th Congress concludes business for the last time.
The seven-page letter – a suicide note for congressional oversight, one might say – was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, and Michael Horowitz, Inspector General for the Department of Justice. Worthy of note is the fact that copies of the letter were sent to President Donald Trump, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the chairmen of the appropriate Senate committees. The incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was also copied.
Inspector General Horowitz continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the shutting down of the incomplete Clinton email investigation and the opening of the counterintelligence – or spying – operation against the Trump campaign. Though he has neither the power to indict nor to subpoena, his final report may provide the Attorney General with a basis for taking further action against individuals who were found to have acted inappropriately or even illegally.
Political Obstructionism v. Congressional Oversight
The two primary takeaways from this somewhat ignominious conclusion of the House investigation should be fairly obvious: Democrats on these congressional committees turned every hearing into a circus, doing their best to divert, delay and restrict the committees’ work. They managed to run out the clock and will now assume the power to end these investigations, thus sweeping any impropriety or law-breaking under the rug. The mere fact that this was how congressional Democrats behaved – as opposed to eagerly searching for the truth – all but proves that their side, the pro-Clinton, anti-Trump machine, has much to hide.
Further, we have learned that congressional oversight of the executive branch is, largely, a joke. Republicans were stymied in their attempts to investigate several very real scandals during the Obama presidency – among them, IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi atrocity and dodgy government loans to dysfunctional green energy companies like Solyndra. Now, the GOP has been defeated once again in its efforts to hold corrupt government officials accountable.
Democrats are certainly about to unleash an eye-popping number of congressional investigations, none of which are driven by anything more than the desire to damage and, ultimately, destroy the Trump presidency. From a political perspective, the most interesting questions for 2019 will be how far Democrats will push their attempted coup-by-investigation, and how will they react when the shoe is on the other foot and their Republican counterparts, the administration, and the White House resist and block their efforts.