President Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit investigations into Russia’s involvement in last year’s election and suggestions of collusion between his campaign and Moscow continued last week but appeared to lose support in Congress. During a campaign rally in West Virginia, where his support remains strong, the president told the crowd it was a “fake story that is demeaning to all of us.” He then mocked the entire investigation saying, “Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?”
Thankfully many in Washington see the story as anything but fake. Moreover, efforts to exact retribution against Russia for trying to influence the outcome of the election and limit the president’s ability to disrupt the ongoing investigations gained bipartisan support just as Congress was getting ready to leave town for summer break.
On Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation passed by Congress that slaps new sanctions on Russia. In addition, the bill restricts the president’s ability to remove or ease the penalties.
The bill represented a stinging rebuke to the president, who signed the legislation but later blasted it, saying that it included “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.”
Congress approved the bill in response to Russia’s election interference as well as for human rights violations and for annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine.
But given that it came with veto-proof margins — and given growing public concern about the president’s uncompromising defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin — Trump had little choice but to allow the legislation to move forward.
The investigation into Russian connections also took a serious turn last week with news that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has begun issuing subpoenas from a Washington-based grand jury. At least some of the subpoenas were reportedly for information related to the business dealings of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who is being investigated for his lobbying work overseas as well as for his connections with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Meanwhile, the White House received more push-back, including from Congress, to any ideas that the president may still have about removing Mueller. While Trump cannot fire him directly, there are moves and directives he can make to ensure such an outcome.
But Capitol Hill lawmakers have warned Trump against taking such steps, and those warnings took on a bipartisan tone last week. Two Senate bills were introduced that would prevent Trump from taking actions to remove the special counsel without judicial oversight. The change would have to be reviewed and approved by a three-judge panel from the federal courts. One bill was authored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and Christopher Coons, D-Delaware, and the other is from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey.
These bills are evidence of a growing lack of confidence of lawmakers in the president’s ability to show restraint in allowing the Russia investigations to proceed without interference. It also gives hope that Congress has found its backbone and may be more willing in the days to come to stand up to Trump in bipartisan fashion and persuade him that we are a nation governed by laws, not presidential whims and tweets.