Email #163: “off the cuff”?

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, wrote to the acting director of the FBI Tuesday afternoon, requesting to see all documents related to communications between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, stating: “If true, these memoranda raise questions as to whether the President attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation as it relates to Lt. Gen. Flynn.”

All of the Democratic members of Chaffetz’s Oversight Committee and your own House Judiciary Committee also wrote a letter Tuesday, requesting that you and Rep. Chaffetz “launch an immediate joint investigation into whether President Donald Trump and his top officials are engaged in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct the criminal, counter-intelligence and oversight investigations currently being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and Congress into members of his presidential campaign and their contacts with Russian officials.”

Such a joint investigation would be appropriate, especially since your two committees have coordinated efforts before. You and Rep. Chaffetz wrote a letter to the Justice department in February, requesting an investigation into the press leaks that prompted Flynn’s resignation. It’s surprising then that you did not join with Rep. Chaffetz again to write to the FBI.

Given the activity of Rep. Chaffetz and the 33 members of your committees who wrote to you, it’s more surprising that you made no statements Tuesday or Wednesday. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein even had time to appoint former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russian investigation yesterday, to which Chaffetz tweeted within hours:

“Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”

What exactly have you been doing while the rest of the government has been responding to this crisis?

Fox News reporter Chad Pergram tweeted Tuesday afternoon:

“‘No comment’ from Judiciary Cmte chair Goodlatte on Comey memo & Flynn probe”

He added a few hours later:

“Judiciary Cmte chair Bob Goodlatte on Comey/Flynn notes: ‘I don’t comment off the cuff in the middle of the street'”

Your non-responses might be reasonable if not for the circumstances surrounding them. Your office, however, did issue a press release Wednesday afternoon titled: “Houses Passes Legislation to Federally Recognize Six Virginia Indian Tribes.” While I personally applaud this bill, your timing is at best ill-advised. You also sent out an e-newsletter yesterday afternoon celebrating National Police Week. Again, a perfectly nice topic to draw attention to, but the effect is one of political deafness and ostrich-like denial.

Why are other GOP leaders able to compose informed, detailed letters while you remain silent and evasive? You’ve also not yet responded to the President’s firing of Director Comey last week or the Monday reports of the President’s disclosure of highly classified information to Russian officials.

How much time do you require to formulate meaningful responses? Or do you feel that your Republican colleagues are speaking too “off the cuff”? Senator McCain said Tuesday evening: “I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals you and I have seen. It’s the centipede that the shoe continues to drop. Every couple of days, there’s a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.”

Senator McCain has been critical of the President for months, but Speaker Ryan has not. And yet Ryan had time Wednesday morning to say: “We should take our oversight responsibilities seriously regardless of who is in power. That means before leaping to judgment we get all the facts. [The oversight and government reform committee] has requested documents. And we’ll see where the facts lead.”

Is that too “off the cuff”? Don’t you also take your oversight responsibilities seriously regardless of who is in power? Or is your evasiveness evidence of your desire to wait and see how much the political winds are shifting while you try to balance non-committally “in the middle of the street”?

If your opinions were based on more than political calculation, they would be unaffected by shifts in power. You wouldn’t be speaking “off the cuff” then. You’d be speaking from principles. Based on your behavior during the past 48 hours, you don’t appear to have any.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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