WASHINGTON — Michigan Republicans are eager to put Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report behind them, but Democrats say the investigations are just getting started.
The redacted report on Russian election interference in 2016, released in late April, has been the epicenter of a heated political debate on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers have returned from a two-week congressional recess.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney William Barr, testified on before a Senate panel, adding fuel to the fire. Mueller, who has remained silent as part of the investigation, wrote a pointed letter to Barr over his March 24 four-page summary of the report that President Trump declared on Twitter proved his “TOTAL EXONERATION.” However, Mueller wrote that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
Democrats in both chambers of Congress say there’s plenty of fodder to launch additional inquiries into the actions of Trump and his allies, but Republicans insist that’s a political distraction.
“It’s not how I’d run my show, let’s face it,” U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St Joseph) said of the report’s revelations about the inner workings of the Trump administration.
But “it’s time to turn the page,” he told the Michigan Advance this week. “What we ought to be focusing on is what should we be doing now to prevent the Russians from having some type of influence in this next election.”
He urged Congress to move on to other policy priorities, like a bipartisan bill to combat sexual assault that he’s co-sponsoring.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) told the Advance Wednesday, “I don’t think there’s anything illegal, so I think people are ready to move on.”
Democrats are on a very different page. They see troubling revelations in the Mueller report regarding the president’s behavior, and they’re gearing up for additional investigations into Trump and his allies that could dominate the discourse in Washington for the foreseeable future.
Just this week, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he was recommending a criminal perjury charge for Michigan native Erik Prince, the founder of the paramilitary firm Blackwater and brother of Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) has been among the most vocal proponents in Congress of pursuing impeachment proceedings against the president. She has introduced a resolution, citing obstruction of justice among the reasons it’s warranted.
“No one, Madam Speaker, including the president of the United States, is above the law,” Tlaib said in a floor speech after the report’s release.
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) said Wednesday that he agrees Trump “should probably be impeached.” But he cautioned that such a conversation is premature.
“I just think that everybody has this wrong: impeachment, not impeachment,” he said. “It’s just ignorant of history. It’s April 1973. Go look at a Watergate timeline. … The Republicans weren’t ready for impeachment in 1973; the public wasn’t ready.”
Levin said lawmakers need to hear from witnesses including Mueller, former White House counsel Don McGahn and others.
“We need to develop the story, whether it leads to impeachment or not,” Levin said. “It’s a political thing, and we need to do our job under the Constitution to hold him accountable and we’ll see where it goes. But it’s just kind of superficial to say impeachment. We need to do the oversight.”
‘It’s the beginning, not the end’
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), who has served in both the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pointed to two “big pieces” in the Mueller report.
“There’s the conversation about what the president and his administration did or did not do, and then there’s the conversation that’s more clear cut on what the Russians did to try and influence our elections, and the report is very, very clear on that. And we know that in spades in Michigan because they specifically and effectively targeted us, particularly with these social media ads,” she said.
Slotkin has introduced legislation barring election ads financed by foreign nationals. She said there’s a series of things Congress can do “that are just cleaning up our systems so that they’re not vulnerable to Russian mucking around.”
There’s a separate conversation about accountability for the administration, she added.
“There’s lots of committees who are engaging on this, and I think we have to let that process play out. We are in the beginning of this, not the end of it. … Impeachment is not something we should ever take lightly; I think it’s important that if we ever go down that road, we bring the American public along with us, and I just don’t think we’re there yet, but it’s the beginning, not the end.”
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Twp.) has frequently bucked his party and opposed Trump, saying he’s abused executive power. But Amash declined to comment on the findings of the Mueller report. In March, he voted “present” on publicly releasing the report, which passed 420-0.
“It takes a long time” to read the report, he told the Advance on Capitol Hill this week. “I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this report.