The situation in Congress changed dramatically in one evening.
The Republican Congress has surrounded the Trump administration with a protective wall. The majority party has denied Democratic demands for independent investigations, quashed bills to force President Trump to release his tax returns, and avoided any serious effort at oversight. Hours after the New York Times reported that James Comey has memos describing Donald Trump attempting to steer him away from the Russia investigation, that wall began to crack.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and heretofore a staunch Trump defender, has subpoenaed all records of Comey’s meetings with the president. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, the fourth-ranking House Republican, endorsed the request, followed within hours by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Opening up Comey’s trove of evidence is hardly a radical step. But it paves the way for a series of revelations that are extremely likely to depict the president as having committed an impeachable offense. The implication of the next step is apparent to many Republicans. Senator John McCain says the charges have “reached Watergate size and scale.” Dana Bash reports that Congressional Republicans are discussing an independent prosecutor or an independent commission — two steps the party has avoided so far.
While Fox News personalities, like ex-journalist Tucker Carlson, filled their time either defending Trump or frantically distracting from the scandal, the network reported it had difficulty rounding up Republican members of Congress to toe the administration line. It is not clear the administration has formulated any line of defense yet. At least some of its staffers, who have created the leakiest administration in history, understand what lies ahead of them. One senior Trump administration official, and campaign veteran, tells the Daily Beast, “I don’t see how Trump isn’t completely fucked.”
Congress is far, far away from the majority of the House, and two-thirds of the Senate, necessary to impeach and remove a president of their own party. But the policy of shutting down all oversight or investigation is no longer tenable. And once the apparatus for producing evidence against Trump begins to churn, there is no telling where it will end. A few days ago, impeachment and removal seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, it isn’t.