Sonoma County’s two Democratic congressmen, Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, called Wednesday for an independent investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and castigated their House Republican colleagues for stonewalling amid the escalating scandal.
Their sharp comments — likening the dominant news story from the nation’s capitol to Watergate — came two days after Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn’s forced resignation following reports that he had misled the White House about his post-election talks with Russia’s ambassador, prompting the Justice Department to intervene.
“This is a political scandal on the level of Watergate, or worse,” Huffman said in an interview, referring to the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party party headquarters that brought down former President Richard Nixon.
“No one wants to step up and show any leadership,” Huffman said, referring to lack of action by House Speaker Paul Ryan and the two Republicans in charge of the House intelligence and oversight committees.
The FBI’s intercept of Flynn’s phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, touching on American sanctions against Russia prior to Trump’s inauguration, validated concerns about the administration’s seemingly cozy relationship with America’s former Cold War foe, Huffman said.
In Washington, other officials were making the Watergate connection and calling for an independent investigation.
“I’ve been in Congress for a long time; I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, said after an emergency caucus meeting on Wednesday. “Nothing less than our system of checks and balances, democratic institutions, the rule of law and our national security is at stake.”
“This is Russiagate,” Thompson, a Vietnam war veteran and former intelligence committee member, said in an interview.
Noting the FBI had concerns that Flynn was in jeopardy of being blackmailed by the Russians, Thompson said he wondered who else in the administration might be in the same position.
Two others close to Trump — campaign chairman Paul Manafort and foreign policy advisor Carter Page — also lost their jobs over their ties to Russia, he said.
The widening scandal underscores the importance of calls made during last year’s campaign for Trump to release his tax returns, which Thompson said would have revealed any of the president’s business interests in Russia.
Huffman said Republican leaders have not only declined to launch an investigation, but also rejected Democratic calls for a bipartisan classified briefing from the intelligence community.
“It’s a very obvious strategy of trying to sweep this all under the rug in hopes some other story will come along and get them out of the pickle they’re in,” he said.
Huffman spoke on the House floor Wednesday morning, calling for an independent, bipartisan commission that would be appointed by Ryan.
Among the questions to be answered, he said, is why Trump “took no action for weeks” after learning of Flynn’s alleged misconduct from the Justice Department.
The New York Times contributed to this report.