This may be a GQ, but given the subject matter, it would probably end up here anyway.
First, is it unprecedented for the president to ask congress to investigate the goings-on of departments under his purview? I’m having a hard time remembering when a president asked congress to investigate anything (maybe the Warren Commission? was that ordered by Johnson?), but in this case, the president should have access to anything congress might try and dig up. Has this ever happened before?
Second, doesn’t the president have the authority to ask for, and receive, practically anything done by the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.? Maybe not the justice department, I suppose, but wouldn’t justice ask the FBI to do its investigating? Couldn’t the president tell his staff to get all wire taps that were put in place during the month of October in New York? Send the request broadly to any agency that can do those things. Couldn’t he also demand to see all FISA requests for the period between June and October or something to that effect?
Leaving aside the possibility that the administration is asking congress to investigate purely as a misdirection tactic, why would the president ask congress to do this? He has much more authority over the relevant agencies than they do, and has all the clearance he would ever need.
Well, theoretically calling for a congressional hearing would indicate you want a nice public accounting of what happened so as to showcase what an honest and transparent government we got going on.
But it’s probably the misdirection thing.
I like to think I follow these things closely, and I can’t think of a time that the Executive Branch portrayed themselves as handcuffed on investigating something until Congress looked at it first. The overwhelming precedent is for the Executive Branch to want to control investigations, not throw them over the transom for Congress to do whothefuckknows with them.
Article II, section 1 invests the executive power in the President. There is nothing that happens in that branch that he is not in charge of, but the tradition is that the White House gives considerable independence to criminal investigations and prosecutions. But there is literally zero reason to believe that the President could not know about all the wiretaps that occurred during the time period in question if he wanted to.
The big advantage Congress has is its subpoena power. The President can order an investigation, but unless a grand jury is convened, there’s no way to get the subjects under oath. And even then, grand jury testimony is secret.
A cynic might point out wryly that lying to Congress under oath doesn’t seem to be the bar that it once was.
Here’s me trying to figure out why the Executive Branch would even need subpoena power for this particular investigation. Presumably, whoever did the wire tapping is still at the FBI/NSA/wherever, and apparently did the taps with permission from FISC, so completely legal, at least on its face. There seems to be a fundamental conflict between saying that Trump Tower was tapped because of some FISA order and needing Congress to look into it. Just get the FISA order and ask who followed up to describe what was done.
That is, the administration seems to be simultaneously saying that it the wiretap was both approved by the FISC and it was a secret Watergate-level scandal. I don’t see how both could be true.
Like my other thread on this administration, which seems to be mercifully dying before warnings are handed out, I’m really struggling with how to think about this, without just assuming everyone involved is just crazy or corrupt. If I were a Trump supporter, how would I justify how this is playing out? Why go to Congress to do the investigation?
This may not have occurred to many, but it occurred to me.
James Clapper is essentially known to have lied under oath when he responded to Sen. Ron Wyden, and his perjurious testimony might still be within the statute of limitations. And James Comey, though he is largely seen as a Hillary Clinton foil, could be prosecuted under the Hatch Act for influencing election. Don’t put it past Jefferson Sessions (or his deputy) to prosecute, or threaten to prosecute, both.