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GOP claims Russia scandal has 'taken care of itself'

Congressional Republicans' approach to the White House's Russia scandal is almost as outrageous as the scandal itself.
Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.
Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.
A wide variety of congressional Republicans, many of whom are usually quite loquacious, have suddenly grown quite shy in the wake of Michael Flynn's White House resignation. The scandal involving Donald Trump's up-until-last-night National Security Advisor is raising all kinds of important questions, and for now, GOP lawmakers don't appear eager to ask or answer them.This morning, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was asked on CNN why his fellow Republicans are so quiet this morning. "Well, uh, it's Valentine's Day," the New York congressman and Trump ally said, "and I guess they're having breakfast with their wives." Collins proceeded to say the phrase "move on" four times in 37 seconds.And as cringe-worthy as the GOP lawmaker's argument was, it wasn't necessarily the worst thing we heard from congressional Republicans this morning.House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, said he appreciates the fact that the White House forced Flynn out "as soon as" Team Trump realized the NSA hadn't been truthful. That, of course, suggests the Speaker isn't paying attention to even the most basic of details surrounding this story -- because the whole point of last night's revelations is that the White House learned about Flynn's falsehoods weeks ago and did nothing.House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), meanwhile, told NBC News' Kasie Hunt, in response to a question about the possibility of a bipartisan investigation of Flynn scandal, "That situation has taken care of itself."No, seriously, that's what he said.And what about House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), a Trump cheerleader who late yesterday dismissed the allegations against Flynn as unimportant and expressed his enthusiastic confidence in the NSA? The Washington Post published this piece this morning:

So far, Nunes is shunning the idea of investigating the Flynn situation, citing something he mentioned Monday -- conversations between Flynn and the president, which Nunes asserted are protected by executive privilege.

Instead of demanding answers on the Trump White House's Russia scandal and Flynn's role, the California congressman said he's going to demand answers about the leaks from the Justice Department that have shed so much light on the controversy.And unlike Chris Collins' laughable rhetoric about Valentine's Day, Nunes' bizarre posturing is important.The way executive privilege usually works, Congress demands answers from the White House and the West Wing responds by arguing that discussions between a president and his/her top aides are protected and shielded from lawmakers' scrutiny. In this case, however, Nunes, despite working in an entirely different branch of government, is preemptively making Trump's case for him, doing his part to block the question before it's even asked.Usually, even the laziest of partisans aren't quite so ridiculous when dealing with the legislative branch's oversight role over the executive branch.What's more, as we discussed earlier, executive privilege may not even apply here: pre-inauguration and pre-election conversations between a president-elect/candidate and an advisor on his team are not protected.But stepping back, there's a related concern that we shouldn't overlook. Three weeks ago, Politico had this report:

The House Intelligence Committee is now looking into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, the panel's leaders said Wednesday, making it the second congressional investigation into the sensitive issue.Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a joint statement with his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee is conducting a broad probe of Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.Among other topics, the investigation is looking into "any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns," the two congressmen said.

Given Nunes' latest comments, the concern is not only about the congressman's disinterest in Flynn's alleged misdeeds, but also that he may have no intention of pursuing the broader scandal in an objective and even-handed way. Indeed, he doesn't appear interested in asking questions about Flynn at all.As we discussed earlier, leading the House Intelligence Committee is an important position. When it's led by a sycophantic partisan, reflexively repeating ridiculous talking points and showing indifference towards intelligence-related scandals, the system of checks and balances cannot work as it's designed to.Vox' Ezra Klein recently wrote, "[F]or now, the crucial question – the question on which much of American democracy hinges – is not what Trump does. It is what Congress does."The answer this morning appears to be unmistakably disheartening.