By Michelle Monroe
Speaking from Washington on Wednesday, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the revelation that President Donald Trump may have asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into a former member of his administration has “ratcheted up concern” in the House of Representatives.
“The president is responsible for enforcing the law, not suppressing the investigation,” said Welch, who spoke with the St. Albans Messenger before the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.
Welch, a member of the House Oversight Committee, said there was undisputed intelligence regarding Russian involvement in the election and questions about former national security advisor Michael Flynn taking money from the Russians and lying to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he held with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Welch noted that in addition to Comey, Trump has also fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had alerted his administration to Flynn’s deception regarding the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.
“Congress is deeply divided,” said Welch, making an independent investigation into the allegations of Russian ties of various members of the Trump administration, campaign and transition team, necessary.
His committee was scheduled to hear from Comey next week, and Welch said he wanted that testimony to be public. It is unclear at this point if the trajectory of Congressional investigations will change, given Mueller’s appointment.
Also of concern is Trump’s competence, and not just for Democrats, according to Welch. He said his Republican colleagues have expressed concern the White House is “preoccupied with a five-alarm fire every day.” All of the attention on the White House and its crises is frustrating Republicans in Congress who want to focus on their agenda, Welch observed.
The most recent crisis arose when the New York Times revealed the existence of a memo written by Comey detailing a meeting with Trump at which the president allegedly asked Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn.
“That Comey memo certainly disturbs me, and it has the whiff of obstruction of justice,” said Welch.
Trump has also drawn criticism for revealing classified information to Kislyak and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The president does have the legal authority to disclose that information, said Welch. “But should he?”
Such disclosures should be made based on whether it will enhance or diminish national security, said Welch. Critics have argued the disclosure compromised U.S. access to intelligence gathered by allies.
“That appeared to me to be a competence question,” said Welch.
Many of his Republican colleagues come from districts where the president remains popular. That “creates political problems for them,” said Welch. As voters become more concerned, Welch said he expects House members will follow suit.
Along with his Republican colleagues, Welch doesn’t want Trump to be the sole focus of conversation. “I don’t want the Democrats to be spending all their time on Trump,” said Welch. The Democrats should continue to work on rebuilding the middle class and issues such as the economy, infrastructure and health care, in his view.
Michelle Monroe is executive editor of the St. Albans Messenger.