By CASEY TOLAN | Bay Area News Group
WASHINGTON — As controversy roiled the Capitol over the latest damaging reports about the Trump administration, House Democrats launched a procedural fight Wednesday to create an independent commission into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
“I hope the latest news provokes an urgency to act,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, whose bill would create a bipartisan, 12-member panel in the mold of the 9/11 Commission. It’s supported by all 197 House Democrats and two House Republicans.
“If there was ever a time for Republicans and Democrats to unite and say this democracy is worth protecting, it’s now,” Swalwell said.
The wrangling came in the wake of two bombshell headlines: first, on Monday, a Washington Post report that President Donald Trump told Russian officials highly classified information, and then, on Tuesday, a New York Times report that Trump had asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February to end an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump fired Comey last week.
As the news alerts buzzed onto representatives’ phones, they lit a new fire under a broader effort by House Democrats to ramp up investigations into Russia-Trump administration connections.
The Republican majority blocked a move to bring the bill to a vote on Wednesday, voting almost completely on party lines.
Democrats are now gathering their colleagues’ signatures on a so-called discharge petition, which would trigger a floor vote on the independent commission bill if a majority of Congress signs on. That means they need 23 Republican signatures.
Two Republicans — Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina — have co-sponsored Swalwell’s bill. Jones signed the discharge petition Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. As of early afternoon, Amash had not signed the petition, and he voted with the Republicans to block the bill from coming up for a vote on Wednesday. His spokesperson declined to comment.
The independent commission would likely include former elected officials, government officials, and academics. Its members would be appointed by Republican and Democratic congressional leaders. The group would have its own resources and staff — and would be able to subpoena witnesses.
It would be different from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, named Wednesday by the Justice Department. The commission, which would have no prosecutorial powers, would just issue a report.
Mueller’s appointment might deflate the political momentum for an independent commission — and make it more difficult for Democrats to rack up the necessary Republican votes. But Democrats argued that his role wasn’t enough.
“A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last,” said Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, the minority leader, in a statement. “Director Mueller will still be in the chain of command under the Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department. He cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump Administration’s meddling.”
There’s been radio silence about the idea of an independent commission from Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and the House leadership.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Ryan said in a press conference Wednesday morning. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Separate investigations into Russian influence and the Trump-Russia connection are continuing in both houses of Congress. The FBI is also conducting its own investigation.
Swalwell likes to point out that the 9/11 Commission wasn’t established until November 2002, more than a year after the World Trade Center fell.
“The only way forward,” he said, “is to embark on a bipartisan quest for answers.”
Article: East Bay Times