White House

GOP lawmakers want testimony and investigation on Flynn but balk at a special panel

Republicans and Democrats want Michael Flynn to testify before Congress about his dealings with Russia, and they want the Senate Intelligence Committee to look deep into the reasons behind the resignation that rocked Washington on Tuesday.

“I think it’s likely that Gen. Flynn will be at some point asked to come and talk to the committee,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a committee member.

Blunt said Flynn would probably be asked to talk about “both post-election activities and any other activities that he would be aware of.”

But the GOP won’t seek a special panel, such as the one Republicans in the House of Representatives created in 2012 when they had questions about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s involvement in that year’s Benghazi attacks.

“Hell, we talked about Benghazi . . . ,” said Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who’s seeking the Democratic National Committee chairmanship. “This is a legitimate controversy. A national security adviser was found cavorting with a hostile foreign power against a sitting president. If you can investigate Planned Parenthood and Benghazi, how in the world does Mike Flynn avoid investigation?”

This time, they were careful about a robust challenge to President Donald Trump.

“With regard to White House personnel decisions, it’s the president’s call,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Everybody at the White House serves at the pleasure” of the White House.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. – who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of several congressional panels that’s investigating alleged Russian email hacking and attempts to influence last year’s American election – echoed McConnell’s sentiments.

“Mike Flynn served his country with distinction,” Burr said in a statement. “The president needs a national security adviser whom he can trust and I defer to him to decide who best fills that role.”

Instead, Republicans said that existing Senate and House committees were sufficient to address the degree to which Russia has sought influence in U.S. politics and the recent election.

Their tone was far different in 2012 after a U.S. ambassador, another embassy official and two private security workers died in the Benghazi attack. The Republican-led House created a special committee to investigate and the issue dragged out for years, a potential embarrassment for Clinton, who was running for president.

With that example fresh in their minds, some Democrats on Tuesday wanted the same sort of probe of Flynn’s involvement with Russia.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for a special counsel to look into allegations against Flynn.

“This issue is about more than just a phone call to the Russian ambassador,” Blumenthal said. “It is about the integrity and honesty of public officials.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., another committee member, said it was important for the Senate and the public to know exactly how long the Trump administration had known that Flynn had lied about his dealings with Russians, yet failed to act. She said Flynn had to be brought in to testify.

“We have to have an independent committee that can call witnesses under oath and in public,” she said. “Russia is not our friend. Putin is not our friend. And this is not a matter of just Flynn.”

Other Republicans spoke in stern terms about what they wanted in the intelligence investigation but stopped short of any Benghazi-style probe. “I’m open to any suggestions that are constructive and not necessarily politically motivated,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “I think a part of that will come from learning the facts now that the president has made a decision.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had been calling for an independent investigation into Russian involvement in U.S. elections, saw no reason now to create a special committee.

“Let’s wait and see what facts come out here first,” McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday. “There are obviously serious questions that need to be answered, but to leap to the conclusion that you need a commission, that’s just foolish.”

The Senate did handle the Benghazi investigation in its Intelligence Committee.

The gist of the allegations that led to Flynn’s resignation – that Russians were seeking or exerting too much influence on the Trump administration and American democracy – are hardly new.

Congress has wide leeway as to how it may proceed. It can launch independent investigations into Russian actions and influence. It has subpoena power and can compel those involved to testify under oath. Congress controls the intelligence community.

At the moment, though, the same House Republicans eager for the Benghazi investigation were inclined to do nothing dramatic or different this time.

“Let me take a step back for a second,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before praising Trump for asking for Flynn’s resignation once the trust had been broken.

“I’m not going to prejudge circumstances surrounding this. I think the administration will explain the circumstances that led to this,” he said. “The Intelligence Committee has been looking into this thing all along, by the way; just the involvement with respect to Russia.”

Lesley Clark contributed to this article.

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise