Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White...

FBI probe into Team Trump casts cloud over Supreme Court process

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed that there’s a counter-espionage investigation underway, examining not only Russia’s illegal efforts to help put Donald Trump in the White House, but also whether Team Trump cooperated with Moscow’s scheme. On Tuesday, the confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, began in earnest.

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Much of the political world is treating these two developments as distinct and unrelated. It was heartening to see Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) take the obvious step of connecting then. The Washington Post reported:
“I’d like to point out that it is the height of irony that Republicans held this Supreme Court seat open for nearly a calendar year while President Obama was in office, but are now rushing to fill the seat for a president whose campaign is under investigation by the FBI,” Schumer said, according to remarks sent out by his office.

Schumer said that, to him, it appeared “unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court Justice with a lifetime appointment” due to the looming FBI investigation, which could potentially last for months or years.
The Democratic leader added, “You can bet that if the shoe was on the other foot – and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI – that Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances. After all, they stopped a president who wasn’t under investigation from filling a seat with nearly a year left in his presidency.”

I don’t imagine any fair-minded observer would disagree with this assessment. Donald Trump not only received far fewer votes than his opponent, making it difficult for him to claim that he has a mandate to push a far-right conservative onto the high court, his campaign also may have colluded with a foreign adversary during an attack on our presidential election – an attack that elevated Trump into the Oval Office.

If the partisan dynamic were flipped, we can say with some certainty that Republicans would demand that the FBI investigation be resolved before the president’s Supreme Court nominee is considered for a lifetime appointment. Given the unprecedented GOP abuses surrounding the Merrick Garland nomination, the high court vacancy is itself of dubious legitimacy, but the FBI’s probe raises questions anew about the legitimacy of the president trying to fill that vacancy.

So why not wait until the questions have answers?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) added yesterday on Twitter that FBI Director James Comey testified that Trump’s campaign “is under investigation for collusion with Russia. Lifetime court appointments can wait.”

Politico reported, “The emerging Democratic demand is highly unlikely to gain traction with Senate GOP leaders, who are planning a vote on Gorsuch early next month.” That is, of course, true. But the more Republicans ignore the broader circumstances, the more Democrats have an incentive to simply walk out of the confirmation hearings and deem the process too corrupt to warrant their participation.

Donald Trump, Scandals and Supreme Court

FBI probe into Team Trump casts cloud over Supreme Court process