By Meg Wagner
A briefing by Thursday
After the resignation of President Donald Trump’s embroiled national security adviser Michael Flynn, who quit after just 23 days amid allegations that he illegally meddled in U.S.-Russian affairs, Democrats are demanding a full investigation into other possible ties the administration has with Moscow.
Flynn’s Monday night resignation came just hours after a new report emerged claiming that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that the retired Army general’s questionable communication on Dec. 28 with Russia’s ambassador could make him vulnerable to blackmail.
Though he seemingly declined to take action against Flynn, Trump fired Yates in late January after she refused to enforce his executive order closing the nation’s borders to travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries.
Late Monday night, top House Democrats began demanded a briefing on why Yates’ report was apparently ignored.
“We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security,” Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) — ranking Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, respectively — said in a joint statement. They insisted that the FBI and Justice Department brief them by Thursday.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said Flynn’s resignation “does not end” the concerns about his communication with Russia.
“The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge,” Schiff said.
Trump’s tangled relationship with Russia
Multiple officials have claimed that Flynn, then only a member of the transition team, spoke to the Russian diplomat, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions in December — a possible breach of a U.S. law that forbids private citizens from conducting diplomacy. Trump did not take office until Jan. 20.
But the phone call is not the first time the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia have spurred controversy. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchanged compliments, prompting his critics to question if Trump’s friendliness with Russia posed a security risk.
In August, Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned amid a wave of criticism of his past lobbying, in which he worked to sway U.S. public opinion about Ukraine’s one-time pro-Russia government.
Since November, U.S. officials have repeatedly claimed that Russian hackers interfered in the election in a bid to help Trump win by leaking sensitive information from Democratic party databases in the months leading up to the vote.
And days before Trump took office, a 35-page dossier leaked to the media, claiming that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.” It included embarrassing alleged details about Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow, when he is claimed to have asked some number prostitutes to defile a bed in a hotel room once used by former President Barack Obama. On Friday, U.S. investigators said that they’ve corroborated some of the details in the unverified dossier — but not the salacious hotel suite accusations.
More to come?
While Democrats have demanded investigations and briefings into Flynn’s call to Russia and other Trump ties to the Kremlin, neither the FBI nor the Justice Department will confirm that they’ve taken action on the requests.
As Congress waits, at least one Democrat has warned that there’s more to come.
The Intelligence Committee’s Schiff said that he expects more information about Flynn’s conversations with Russia to surface in coming days. During a private meeting today with fellow Democrats, he explained that any conversations Flynn had with the ambassador before the inauguration would not be subject to executive privilege — meaning they could be fair game for a possible congressional investigation.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also indicated Tuesday that the Flynn phone call could be the start of a wider, deeper scandal.
“When did @WhiteHouse know that Flynn lied? What other contacts with Russia occurred during the campaign? Who knew what?” she asked on Twitter Tuesday morning. “Congress must pull its head out of the sand and launch a real, bipartisan, transparent inquiry into Russia. Our natl security is at stake.”