WASHINGTON — After months of a slow simmer, Washington roiled Tuesday over the circumstances surrounding President Donald Trump's administration and Russian leaders.
For months, Democrats had seethed with allegations that first Trump's campaign, then his transition team and now his administration had inappropriate ties with Russian leaders. Trump and his allies have pushed back, saying such allegations are unfounded.
But late Monday's resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn prompted even some congressional Republicans — including the most powerful Texan on Capitol Hill — to raise questions.
Flynn stepped down from a position he had held for fewer than four weeks after a series of reports said that he conferred with the Russian ambassador to the United States about Obama administration sanctions for Russia during the Trump transition period. He left his position when it became clear he had misled top Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, on the matter, according to White House officials.
"We got to a point, not based on a legal issue but based on a trust issue, where the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others."
While Democrats have howled about alleged Russian interference into American political life, there were signs that, at the very least, Flynn's actions rattled congressional Republicans — including U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.
Cornyn said on Tuesday that the Senate should investigate Flynn, according to CNN. But he stopped short of calling on the retired lieutenant general to testify in hearings.
"I think it's symbolic of somebody with a distinguished military career making a bad mistake," Cornyn said.
It was not merely because of Cornyn's rank as the Senate's No. 2 Republican that his comments sent waves throughout the halls of the U.S. Capitol: He is a newly installed member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the congressional clearing house of the Russian controversy.
On Tuesday morning, Flores explained to National Public Radio he thought Flynn's actions were "inappropriate."
"We've got to give some deference to the administration because they're in the early stages of setting up all of their teams and their staffs and so forth," he said. "And so you can't expect them to be able turn on a dime. ... One of the challenges they have is that they've got the lowest number of Senate confirmations since George Washington, I believe. So we can't expect them to do everything as well as they do, let's say, two months from now."
When asked whether this episode raised "more concern ... about this administration's connections to Russia," Flores responded, "No, it hasn't."
But Republicans — from Texas and beyond — were largely quiet on the controversy. The unstated anxiety on Capitol Hill on any policy matter, let alone one as charged as this one, is that congressional Republicans fear Trump could politically vaporize careers with a single tweet.
Democratic anger with the administration is nothing new. Earlier this year, intelligence agencies briefed House members about the Russian hack of the Democratic party apparatus. Democrats emerged from the meeting, privately telegraphing rage and fear.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, the lone Texas Democrat serving on either chamber's intelligence committee, spent the start of his third term beating the drum on Russia. In reaction to the Flynn resignation, Castro released a Tuesday morning statement.
"Investigations must take place to determine how severely this administration has compromised our nation’s security," he said. "Congress and the American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s ties with the White House and involvement in the 2016 election."
In early January, Castro emerged from an intelligence committee briefing and made one of the sharpest comments on the Democratic hack: "There's also concern about finding out, making a determination, whether any American or Americans cooperated with [Romanian hacker] Guccifer or the Russian intelligence agencies in this endeavor."
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, cheekily criticized Trump on Tuesday from his perch on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Democrats spent the past several days dogging that committee's chairman, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, to use the power of that gavel to force Trump to release his tax returns.
"Especially with General Flynn’s resignation after his entanglement with the Russians, the American people have reason to question whether, on this Valentine’s Day, more than ‘From Russia with Love’ is at stake here," Doggett said in a statement. "There is no issue this committee could consider that is more important than assuring the confidence of the American people in our democracy – that our system of checks and balances truly works.”
- U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela says he will back U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, should the San Antonio Democrat challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
- U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top House Republican on homeland security issues, strongly criticized the Trump administration for the chaotic rollout last month of a travel ban of mostly Muslim countries.