“I think the president’s got a real good reason to be upset with the Obama people,” Graham said.
Senate Republicans, however, sidestepped questions of whether the Justice Department should pursue criminal investigations against the former Obama officials, instead deferring to the ongoing investigation of U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was tapped by Attorney General Williams Barr to probe the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
“That’s already being looked at, and we’ve got relevant committees up here that are talking a look at some of those issues too. I always think that at the end, eventually the truth comes out, and I’m sure it will here too,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who similarly declined to endorse an effort to go after the former president.
Trump and his allies have pinned their hopes on Durham to unveil charges of misconduct against former officials at the highest levels of the Obama administration who spearheaded the Russia probe, though there’s no indication Durham has uncovered any evidence of criminal activity by senior Obama aides.
Senate Republicans largely demurred on Trump’s public effort to lean on investigators to target his longtime adversaries, but they said they understood why he was frustrated.
“He was accused of being a stooge for [Vladimir] Putin and then subject to the appointment of a special counsel,” added Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. “I understand why the president feels like he’s under assault. But I think we need to do our own independent investigation. Obviously, Mr. Durham is doing his. We’ll hear from them. But I think we have an important role to play in terms of congressional oversight.”
After the Justice Department’s abrupt decision last week to drop the criminal case against Flynn, Trump shifted his public focus over the weekend to mount a three-day tear against his predecessor on Twitter, accusing Obama of committing the “biggest political crime in American history.” Trump sought to popularize the hashtag “Obamagate,” which he said makes the Watergate scandal “look small time.” Trump also said Obama “got caught” and later retweeted comments by Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, who said Obama was part of an effort to frame and entrap her client.
The president also retweeted a photo of himself with the caption: “Hope you had fun investigating me. Now it’s my turn.” And he retweeted a supporter’s call for former top FBI and Justice Department officials to be imprisoned.
When asked Monday what crime Obama allegedly committed, Trump replied: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody, all you have to do is read the newspapers.”
Barr last week dropped the charges against Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI during an interview about several phone calls he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. shortly before Trump took office. Flynn later sought to rescind the plea and allege misconduct against him.
Trump allies have honed in, in particular, on a Jan. 5, 2017 meeting of the outgoing Obama national security team during which the Russia investigation was a topic. Obama attended the meeting, along with then-Vice President Joe Biden and other senior intelligence and Justice Department officials. Flynn’s calls with Russia’s former ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak were a subject of the meeting, according to multiple accounts by participants shared with investigators.
“I don’t know who they consulted with, who they got permission from, and some of the revelations that I read including conversations with Comey and Sally Yates and others are very troubling,” Cornyn said.
One Trump Senate ally, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said new questions raised about the prosecution of Flynn should be put directly to Obama and Biden.
“Given all we know now about the fake foundation of the inquiry, it’s time we ask: What did Obama and Biden know and when did they know it?” Grassley said Monday on the Senate floor.
But Grassley, too, stopped short of saying the Senate should use its powerful committees to investigate the former president, or that the Justice Department should go after Obama. Rather, he and other Senate Republicans simply agreed that Trump’s fury was justified, and deferred to Durham.
“I’m suggesting that any details that we can get on that Jan. 5 meeting ought to be pursued,” Grassley said in a brief interview. “But it’s pretty clear that Obama had his fingers in this. And it’s kind of like, you don’t need to know much more, but just the fact that it’s public, that this came from the highest levels of the previous administration to give Flynn all of his trouble. And the Flynn problems were part of an effort that — the Democrats actually thought that they could cut short this presidency by probably 3½ years.”
Though many of them supported special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference while it was active, those same GOP senators have soured on the probe, citing recently released FBI documents that the president’s allies have said is evidence that holdover officials from the Obama administration sought to unfairly target high-level Trump associates like Flynn.
Those lawmakers have in particular directed their ire at FBI Director Christopher Wray, accusing him of not doing enough to “clean up” the agency after Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were removed from their posts.
Senate Republicans have also largely avoided the posture adopted by Trump’s closest House allies, who have echoed his demands that Obama himself, or his top aides, be targeted by investigators.
“Nobody more than me wants to see these people prosecuted,” Rep. Devin Nunes of California, top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a radio appearance on KMJ when asked about senior Obama administration officials being held legally accountable for their role in the Flynn saga.
“That accountability started last week. Now it is up to the U.S. Attorney of Connecticut,” Nunes added, referring to Durham.