Here we go again. More talk about what the president knew and when he knew it in relation to news reports saying that Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan for the killing of U.S. soldiers.
This time, President Trump’s political fate will be in the hands of American voters, opposed to the political theater in Washington.
There’s little mystery about where Idaho will stand. Republican presidential candidates have carried the Gem State easily since 1964, and it’s a good guess that President Trump will keep that streak going. But that’s not stopping former Democratic state Rep. Paulette Jordan from making some noise on the issue in her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Jim Risch.
As she sees it, Trump should be held accountable – if he did, indeed, receive intelligence briefings about the bounty plot and chose to do nothing. She says that Risch, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an ally of Trump, should be held equally accountable and that voters should take notice.
Jordan has called on Risch to hold a news conference with Idaho media “and answer some very basic and straightforward questions.” As a committee chairman, she says, Risch should be conducting hearings “not only to ask the questions and dig for the truth and holding people accountable, but to protect people who we are asking to sacrifice their lives on behalf of our country.”
Risch says committee hearings and news conferences are not necessary. “As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I’ve reviewed all materials relevant to the news reports about the alleged Russian bounty program and can state that the reporting is grossly inaccurate. We all know that Putin’s Russia has been relentless in his desire to cause harm to the U.S., but the claims made in these stories are not backed up by the facts.”
Trump says it’s all a “hoax,” so it’s case closed as far as Risch is concerned. Under almost any circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine him holding news conferences or committee hearings aimed at putting Trump on the defense. That’s a sure path to political obscurity in this White House and Risch – who routinely talks with the president -- is not one to give up power.
Jordan, of course, wants more. Failure for the senator to at least hold hearings “says a lot about him and his principles,” Jordan says.
“Risch has proven himself to be nothing more than a subsidiary of the White House, parroting everything they say. He neglects his constitutional oversight duties as a member of Congress. Quite frankly, Risch’s behavior is a danger to our democracy. If the reports are largely inaccurate, he should get to work to set the record straight. These allegations are weighing heavy on the minds of all Americans.”
If election were not just a few months away, Democrats on the House side would be screaming for action. You’d be seeing a plethora of high-profile investigations, possibly coupled with a few more articles of impeachment to send to the Senate. And the Republican senators, as they did earlier this year on the Ukraine issue, would greet the impeachment allegations with a big yawn. A Republican-controlled Senate is not going to impeach Donald Trump, period.
So, Democrats are going to have to settle for making “Bountygate” a major campaign issue in this election – from the presidential race on down. Dems can hope that voters are steamed enough to put Joe Biden in the White House and give Democrats control of the Senate. That’s where Jordan enters the picture.
Odds are against her, given the fact that it has been 40 years since a Democrat has held a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho. And it doesn’t help that she has not been able to get out on the campaign trail, due to coronavirus. But Jordan, who has a decent amount of statewide name recognition from her run for governor two years ago, is the strongest senatorial candidate that Democrats have fielded in a long time. She has star power compared to the no-name Democrats who typically run for these high offices in Idaho.
We’ll see what kind of help she gets from the Democratic National Committee, or if the party bosses have declared Idaho as a lost cause.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com