The House Judiciary Committee has a unique role to play in times of great national crisis in the functioning of the presidency. As the congressional body with jurisdiction over the initial stages of the impeachment process, it’s the committee’s responsibility to weigh whether the president’s misconduct is sufficiently severe so as to merit what Charles Black refers to as “this most drastic of measures.”
Fortunately, Chairman Bob Goodlatte and the Republican members of his committee are up to the task. Last week, with Russia matters heating up and the White House in full meltdown, they stayed focused on the real danger at hand: Huma Abedin.
The committee voted to adopt an amended resolution introduced by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) calling for a special counsel investigation into, variously, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s instructions to former FBI Director James Comey to refer to the Clinton email probe as a “matter” rather than an “investigation”; Comey’s leaks to Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman; Comey’s leaks to New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt as far back as 1993 (when Schmidt, who graduated college in 2005, would have been around ten years old); “collusion” between Comey and Robert Mueller; any knowledge by Comey of the Steele dossier and of efforts by the intelligence community to surveill Trump or unmask his associates in a quest to damage Trump’s campaign or his presidency; immunity deals provided by the FBI to various Clinton aides over the course of the email investigation; whether Clinton secretly approved a deal to transfer U.S. uranium deposits to Russian control in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation; and yes, the specific circumstances of Huma Abedin’s employment at the State Department.
If this sounds like the work of conspiracy theorists, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Wired reported on Friday that a Gaetz staffer appears to have crowdsourced the amended resolution with the help of r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump subreddit notorious for both its embrace of conspiracy theories and its gleeful offensiveness. The Reddit user, “Devinm666,” regularly posted on the forum praising Gaetz, referencing his work in Congress, and at one point publishing a picture of his congressional ID badge with his name and face blacked out. According to Wired, Gaetz confirmed that “Devinm666” is Devin Murphy, a legislative aide in his office.
“I work for Congress and have been asked to come up with a list of Clinton/Obama/election scandals for my boss ASAP,” Murphy apparently posted on Reddit, asking for suggestions. “This is not a shitpost. This is real. Congressional investigation. Do it for America!”
So r/The_Donald rose to the occasion and did it for America.
The text in question is not a bill, but rather a resolution of inquiry. If passed by the House, it wouldn’t require the Attorney General to begin a special counsel investigation running in parallel with Robert Mueller’s investigation (and possibly branching into it in order to investigate Mueller himself), but would merely “express the sense of the House of Representatives that a special counsel should be appointed.” That may be for the best, as there is already an investigation into a number of the issues listed in the resolution by the Department of Justice Inspector General. Additionally, most of the offenses fail to measure up to the standards for a special counsel appointment set out in either the Department of Justice regulations or the now-defunct independent counsel statute, which both anticipate possible violations of criminal law.
This procedural note on Gaetz’s call for a special counsel—its technical status as a resolution of inquiry, rather than a bill—is key to understanding how it came to exist in the first place. On July 14th, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and David Cicilline (D-RI) of the House Judiciary Committee introduced a resolution requesting that the Department of Justice provide Congress with various documents relevant to the firing of James Comey. After the committee took up the resolution, Rep. Gaetz introduced an amendment to scoop out the content and replace it with Gaetz’s request for a special counsel, while keeping Jayapal and Cicilline’s names on top. Gaetz’s proposal was adopted with the full support of the committee’s majority.
Though Gaetz’s amendment and the majority’s vote were within the letter of House procedures, Democrats on the committee are—to put it mildly—somewhat put out by what they view as a “hijacking” of the normal process.
But who can blame the majority? With the Mueller investigation continuing apace and the presidency spiraling ever further into chaos, you wouldn’t want a responsible body of congressional oversight to get distracted from what’s really important. Good thing the majority can boot up Reddit.