With all the activity around President Donald Trump's cruel and unnecessary battle with Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson and Rep. Frederica Wilson, as well as a dozen other scandals and skirmishes over various issues, it has felt as if the Russia investigation has faded into the background. But on Monday NBC reported that Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating a Democratic Party-affiliated lobbying group led by Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman John Podesta. This apparently concerns work the firm did in Ukraine a few years back as part of a team put together by Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. Tony Podesta's firm may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA, which could lead to felony charges.
Needless to say, the right-wing media went nuts at this news. This was the hook they've been waiting for. For months they've been pushing a narrative that has Hillary Clinton as the real beneficiary of Russian manipulation, and this is supposed to be proof that connects all the dots. Rush Limbaugh has cooked up a massive conspiracy featuring President Barack Obama, Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Russians over that uranium sale from years ago that's going to blow the lid off everything. (If you can make heads or tails out of what Limbaugh says happened or will happen, take a drink. You need it.)
This uranium story is all over the alternative-facts media, particularly Fox News, with breathless accounts of nefarious Clinton illegality and corruption. According to Rush and others, congressional investigators are on it.
A New York Times story on Monday indicated that the three congressional committees that were supposed to be looking into Russian interference in the election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, are hitting a wall. Partisan infighting and GOP lack of focus and interest are pointing toward the conclusion that nothing will be done about any of it. If Mueller's investigation comes up with something concrete, maybe they'll take another look -- but if anyone was expecting the U.S. Congress to be even slightly concerned about the propaganda campaign, the hacking or the attempts to break into actual voting systems, they're going to be disappointed. The Republicans don't give a damn about any of that and they are running the show.
That doesn't mean they aren't busy. You'll recall that House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, due to his bad habit of sneaking off to the White House in the middle of the night with phony evidence that the Obama administration had been spying on the Trump campaign. Apparently, Nunes is still pursuing that line of inquiry, along with a separate investigation into the question of who paid for the so-called Steele dossier. He has a funny definition of recusal.
Meanwhile the rest of the House investigation is being overseen by three GOP congressmen, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida and Trey Gowdy of North Carolina. The New York Times reports that the latter, best known as the Javert of Benghazi, has taken on an air of cynical ennui, declaring that the Russia probe is nothing more than a political exercise, hardly worth doing, a tremendous waste of everyone's time.
Gowdy reportedly told Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, after the latter had privately testified for two hours, that Kushner was in an unwinnable situation in which the Democrats would say that he refused to answer all the questions if he left but would keep him there indefinitely if he stayed. Recall that in one of the three congressional investigations into the Benghazi attacks that Gowdy oversaw (out of eight total) over the course of four years, he grilled Hillary Clinton for 11 straight hours live on national television.
According to Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who appeared on Fox News over the weekend, while Gowdy may be uninterested in Russian election interference, he is very interested in looking into the Hillary Clinton's notional "uranium scandal":
I’ve spoken with Chairman Gowdy. He believes this is an important issue, and he’s indicated to me that he’s supportive of what we’re doing. So I think that you are gonna see action. You’re right, though. Last Congress we in the Oversight Committee wanted to investigate the foundation and all the other payments involving the Clintons, and we were not allowed to do that by the leadership of the House for whatever reason. Well, now I think that this information is so explosive that there’s no way you can justify not getting all the information on this. Remember, we have three Russia investigations about Trump and Russia. There’s not been any evidence of collusion. Here there’s a lot of evidence, and this stuff needs to be vetted thoroughly.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate we have Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, R-N.C., pretty much throwing up his hands and saying that there isn't much the panel can do about potential criminal matters. He has promised to wrap up his investigation by spring. Burr and his Democratic counterpart Mark Warner of Virginia held a press conference a couple of weeks ago in which Burr tried to make it sound as if the investigation was winding down. He wasn't entirely successful.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which would logically be looking into the firing of FBI Director James Comey, is also dragging its feet. Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa seems to be more interested in investigating Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for their alleged assistance of Hillary Clinton than Trump's blatant interference with the Department of Justice. He too is now reportedly focusing on the uranium scandal.
This "scandal" is being pushed hard by Fox News, right-wing radio and longtime GOP operatives like attorney Victoria Toensing and professional Clinton chaser David Bossie. The latter is calling for a special prosecutor who can get to the bottom of this and Lock Her Up once and for all. It's a full-court press.
All these people seem to be certain that Russian interference in our elections is nothing to worry about. One cannot help wondering why they are so confident that, if it continues, it will always accrue to their benefit.
Heather Digby Parton
Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton
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