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Russia scandal leaves a 'big, gray cloud' over Trump, Republicans

The latest Russia scandal revelations make Donald Trump and his team look awfully bad. But in one important way, they may make Republicans look worse.
FBI Director James Comey(L) and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers(R) arrive to speak during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence...

Comey's testimony confirmed what was widely suspected: The FBI is investigating whether the president's campaign colluded with a powerful American adversary in an attempt to swing the election. But instead of being shaken from complacency and uniting to make sure this never happens again, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee mounted a reflexive defense of Trump.The partisan response made it plain that there will be no serious congressional investigation of the Russia election outrage, nor any major repercussions for Russia. We were attacked by Russia — about this there is no doubt — and we're too paralyzed by politics to respond.

Confronted with evidence that Russia launched an illegal espionage operation to subvert an American presidential election, and the president's campaign team may have cooperated with our adversary's scheme, nearly every GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee linked arms and effectively declared in unison: "We don't care."Republicans wanted to talk about leaks. And Hillary Clinton. And answers to vote-rigging questions that no one has asked. With very limited exceptions, as Milbank added, GOP members "slavishly echoed [Trump's] excuses."In the closing moments of the hearing, Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), a Trump loyalist who served on the president's executive transition team, told the FBI director, "[T]here is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country. And so the faster you can get to the bottom of this, it's going to be better for all Americans."It served as both an accusation against Comey -- Nunes believes there's a "cloud" over the presidency, but it's the FBI director's fault, not the president's or Russia's -- and a demand that the investigation be rushed.What Nunes did not say is that he's concerned about the underlying scandal itself.About half-way through the hearing, Comey told lawmakers, in reference to Russian officials, "[T]hey'll be back. And they'll be in 2020, they may be back in 2018 and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sewed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process."And that's precisely why congressional Republicans should at least consider putting aside petty partisanship and show at least some interest in responding to an attack on the United States. GOP lawmakers' top priority, as of yesterday, was to protect Trump's faltering reputation, but what they were unwilling to recognize is the fact that indifference towards election espionage only encourages more crimes.Several weeks ago, in a very different context, the New York Times' David Leonhardt wrote, "This combination -- an anti-democratic president and a quiescent Congress -- is very dangerous. Even though many members of Congress think [Trump's] approach is wrong, they have refused to confront him because he is a member of their party. He has the power to sign bills that Republican legislators have long favored, and their political fortunes are tied to his popularity. So they look the other way. They duck questions about him, or they offer excuses. They enable him."The Russia scandal is simply too important for politics this small. Bring on the special counsel.