By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
Scott Peters (D-52) is taking the Trump-Russia probe very seriously, unlike many of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives. On May 9, after Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey for what we now know — by Trump’s own admission — was Comey’s refusal to “drop the whole Russia thing,” Peters wasted no time in issuing a very strongly worded statement on the matter:
Firing law enforcement officers who may be investigating you or your associates and then appointing their replacements is something that happens in dictatorships — not in the United States of America. This move from the president is breathtaking in its brazen disregard for the independence of our justice system. Republican members of Congress who fail to stand up against this are complicit in this assault on our democracy.
The founding fathers made Congress a check on the power of the presidency. That check only functions when it is used without regard for political party. Congress —Democrats and Republicans — must stand up in a bipartisan defense of our institutions and insist that a special prosecutor be appointed before confirming a new director.
Never before has it been clearer that the integrity of our democracy depends on an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in our election and a special prosecutor at the Department of Justice to follow an investigation to wherever — and whomever—it leads.
On May 16, after it was revealed that Trump shared highly classified information received from Israeli intelligence sources with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador — information that the intelligence community had not even divulged to the U.S.’s staunchest allies — Peters issued another statement that was equally condemning of the administration.
“It is high time that Republicans put country before party and hold this president accountable,” it read in part.
“From the beginning, I said I was willing to work with President Trump on shared priorities, but this crosses every line. All members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — should be standing shoulder to shoulder as patriots to demand answers from President Trump so that we can contain the damage and help keep Americans safe. Anything less is a dangerous failure of Congress to faithfully execute its role as a check on the power of the president as the founders intended.”
The investigation into the Trump campaign’s and his associates’ ties to Russia and Russian meddling into the 2016 campaign is now in the hands of former FBI Director Robert Mueller. It’s a step in the right direction, but many believe a 9/11 style independent commission is called for.
On May 25, the state of Montana held a special election to fill its sole congressional seat, vacated when Ryan Zinke was appointed to Secretary of the Interior. The state voted for Donald Trump by 20 points, yet the congressional election was expected to be tight. And it was. Republican Greg Gianforte won the seat with 50.1 percent of the vote (Democrat Rob Quist finished second with 44.1 percent).
So what does a Montana congressional special election have to do with the San Diego Congressional Watch column?
Well, the night before the election, Mr. Gianforte physically assaulted a reporter, Ben Jacobs from The Guardian. The incident was witnessed by a Fox News crew that was preparing to interview Gianforte after a pre-election rally. Jacobs called the police and Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault (Sheriff’s officials said the nature of Jacobs’ injuries did not meet the standards for felony assault) and could face up to six months in jail.
Condemnation of Gianforte’s actions was widespread, although Fox News barely acknowledged the incident until the next day, despite having their own crew as eyewitnesses.
Duncan Hunter (R-50) had a different take on the incident, when asked about Gianforte’s actions. “It’s not appropriate behavior,” Hunter told reporters. “Unless the reporter deserved it.”
First, Ben Jacobs most certainly did not deserve to be body slammed by a congressional candidate — or anyone else, for that matter — and certainly asking a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the Republican health care repeal bill did not deserve such a response. Second, who, in Hunter’s mind, is to be the arbiter of who does and does not deserve to be physically assaulted? What, exactly are the criteria for such a determination?
Third, since when has it become acceptable for anyone to attack a reporter for simply doing their job? Is this the new reality we will be living with from here on out?
Darrell Issa (R-49) recently saw the lawsuit against his 2016 general election opponent Doug Applegate dismissed in San Diego County Superior Court. Issa had sued Applegate for defamation, stemming from commercials that aired in Orange and San Diego Counties, featuring quotes from a New York Times article that accused Issa of using his position as a member of Congress to steer funds for road work and public projects to improving the value of his own properties.
As a part of the ruling, Applegate is entitled to recover $141,000 in legal fees, but Issa has announced plans to appeal, delaying Applegate’s ability to recover those fees.
Applegate lost to Issa by less than 1 percentage point (1,621 votes) in the 2016 election and has already said he will challenge Issa again. Environmental lawyer Mike Levin has also announced plans to challenge Issa from the Democratic side.
After a couple of rough town hall meetings in April, Issa has scheduled another town hall event, with one caveat; he is selecting only conservative-leaning constituents to attend the event in a 500-seat venue, presumably to avoid the kind of confrontation he faced last time.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.