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Ignoring Trump, Chaffetz seeks charges related to Clinton emails

As the Russia scandal brews, Jason Chaffetz contacted the Justice Department seeking criminal charges related to ... Hillary Clinton's email server.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who has refused Democratic requests to investigate possible conflicts of interest involving President Donald Trump, is seeking criminal charges against a former State Department employee who helped set up Hillary Clinton's private email server.Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking him to convene a grand jury or charge Bryan Pagliano, the computer specialist who helped establish Clinton's server while she was secretary of state.

So let me get this straight. There's evidence that Russia launched an illegal espionage operation to help put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. There's evidence that Team Trump was in communications with officials in Vladimir Putin's government at the time. There's evidence that leading members of Team Trump lied about these contacts. There's evidence that the communications continued during the presidential transition process, which Trump administration officials lied about, and which led to the White House National Security Advisor resigning.There's evidence that this entire scandal, possibly the most serious since Watergate, is part of an ongoing U.S. counter-espionage investigation.It's against this backdrop that Jason Chaffetz, just yesterday, contacted the Justice Department seeking criminal charges related to ... wait for it ... Hillary Clinton's email server.Do you ever feel like you're stuck in a deeply stupid nightmare?Political scientist Norm Ornstein said this week, "When the history of this dark period is written, Jason Chaffetz will go down as one of the real villains." That's hardly an unreasonable assessment under the circumstances.Slate's Jamelle Bouie added yesterday, "Americans believe their system runs on checks and balances, but those checks require the will to act. Without that, they're dead letters. And to that point, it's unclear if the GOP majority will ever take up its responsibilities.... [Republicans] have embraced an unqualified, unstable authoritarian with contempt for the basic values and norms of American democracy. They have facilitated the potential subversion of our government by foreign forces and empowered a dangerous ideology of racial and religious exclusion. However this ends, whatever happens with Trump and his movement, the GOP will bear the brunt of the blame."It's worth watching to see if this wall of Republican opposition to accountability starts to crack. Chaffetz, obviously, is focusing his attention elsewhere, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes last night that an unnamed House Republican is on board with a proposal to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Russia scandal, and there have been related grumblings in the Senate.GOP leaders, however, remain staunchly opposed to such an investigation.Away from Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Democrats are pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a close Trump ally and former member of the president's campaign team, to recuse himself from the process. A New York Times editorial added today that the need for a special prosecutor is obvious.Watch this space.Postscript: The estimable Jamison Foser reminded me this weekend that, in Bill Clinton's second term, House Republicans actually launched an investigation into the president's cat, Socks. That's true. The Washington Post's Paul Waldman noted the House Oversight Committee -- the same panel Chaffetz now leads -- once "demanded to know whether taxpayer resources were being used to respond to children's letters to the president's cat."Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the committee can look into Socks, it can show some interest in Donald Trump's Russia scandal.