Northern Virginia U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly, who as the representative of the 11th District in Fairfax and Prince William counties is a veritable next door neighbor to the City of Falls Church, is getting a lot of facetime on the cable news networks since his fellow Democrats took control of the House of Representatives this January. This is especially due to his critical role as a member of the House Oversight Committee and chairmanship of its subcommittee on Government Operations.
Along with five other committees of the House, the Oversight committee is taking its role to oversee the activities of the White House, in particular, very seriously, given the ominous acknowledgement by Attorney General William Barr that the exhaustive, two-year investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller “did not exonerate” President Trump from evidence of serious, potentially criminal obstruction of justice.
Connolly has been a full-throated, vocal supporter of the release of the almost 400 page Mueller report to Congress, instead of the paltry four-page letter provided by Barr. The House Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena the report yesterday.
Connolly came to the office of the News-Press to provide his assessment of where things stand, and where they may be going.
Recognizing the extent to which the American public may have become desensitized by the relentless lying and dissembling by President Trump over the last two years, and the Republican Party leadership and Trump’s core base willingness to support him nonetheless, Connolly stressed how extraordinary it is for such a thorough and professional investigation to conclude that it was unable to exonerate the President of the United States of culpability for significant criminal acts.
“If this is a conclusion, even as limited as Barr’s summary was stating it, wouldn’t you want to know more?” Connolly stressed. “Don’t we have an obligation to the American people to get to the bottom of this?”
Connolly is a strongly outspoken political leader, and increasingly in Congress since he became the only Democratic congressman in Virginia to survive a serious contest during a backlash vote in 2010 when he won his first re-election effort by less than 1,000 votes. Last year, he won with 72 percent of the vote.
He told the News-Press that there are five areas of grave concern for the actions of the President and their consequences, including his relationships with the Russians (whether or not the charge of collusion can technically become the basis for a criminal charge), the matter of obstruction of justice, from which Barr reported Mueller’s investigation could not find him exonerated, the status of the security of U.S. elections going forward, the on-going use by Russia, China and other adversaries of the U.S. to exploit the “wild west” of the Internet to harm U.S. domestic and strategic interests and the 2020 U.S. presidential race.
He said he is “incredulous” that Barr said he can’t complete a heavily redacted version of the Mueller report until the middle of April, at the earliest while being able to review it sufficiently to provide within 48 hours a four-page digest and a legal opinion that there is nothing rising to the level of criminal activity in the report. “There’s really something disquieting about this,” he said, “There has got to be a lot more to come out about this.”
“If there is no ‘collusion’ found in the report between Trump and the Russians that constitutes a criminal conspiracy,” he said, “Still there is no doubt that Trump played footsie with them.” He noted that 17 Trump-linked people were documented meeting over 100 times with the Russians and their operatives. “This is not normal,” he said. “It cannot be a ‘new normal’ to consult with our foreign adversaries in this way.”
He noted that Trump has taken the word of Putin over the unanimous opinion of his own intelligence community.
He cited how Trump continued his business dealings through his campaign with Moscow and how the Russians financed his business operations through cutouts and by buying condos in his properties at inflated prices. “I am not of a conspiratorial bent,” Connolly said, “But all that Russian money has at least potentially caused Trump to discount Russian threats on behalf of his own business self interests.”
Almost all of what Connolly says he knows about all this is in the public record, he said, through public depositions and the testimony of people like Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen. He said that going forward, Mueller has already indicated his willingness to testify before Congress, and his committee will also want to hear from Barr, by subpoena if necessary, and more from Cohen.
He said a critical witness may be the Trump organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who’s been with Trump 40 years and “knows where all the bodies are buried,” Connelly said. “We have to unravel and examine the financial structure of Trump’s organization, the good, the bad, the ugly. It will be key.”
Connolly said that it is “eerie” how the Trump organization resembles a “criminal enterprise,” where the Attorney General of New York has already found fraudulent, illegal activity in the case of Trump University and other operations, adding that Trump continues to have control of his business operations, having created no blind trusts and encouraging would-be supporters to curry favor by doing business with them.
America’s Number One crime boss, Al Capone, was brought down by the testimony of his tax accountant, Louis Shumway, that ultimately put the mobster behind bars on tax evasion charges.
He said that the ongoing investigative work of the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia of materials and evidence including what the Mueller team has forwarded to them about the finances of Trump, of Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. will bring out a lot more in the coming period.
“There are still many indictments to come,” Connolly said, including concerning the involvement of the Russians through their GRU intelligence agency and their social media farms dissemnating disinformation and chaos over the Internet.
He said much more needs to be done to protect the U.S. vote even this fall, and that the U.S. benefits from the fact there is no uniform voting system. “There have been detected significant efforts to probe the ability to taint the vote,” Connolly noted. The “wild west” nature of social media makes this easier for them, he added, noting that the anonymous nature of so much of the vile, hateful comments that flood the Internet, and the fueling of wild conspiracy theories, presents challenges.
There are growing demands for regulation, he said, but there has been a reluctance to act because of the benefits of the Internet to inform, entertain, and sell goods. The tension between the rights to privacy and the bullying of kids and hate speech that goes on has put social media organizations under a lot of heat, he said, and “change is coming.”
The biggest change so far, he said, is the new control of the House by the Democrats, such that Trump and the Republicans, at last, are not the only game in town.
“The good news is that we’re geared up, and we can do more than one thing at the same time. There are now six House committees pursuing these matters,” he pointed out, as well as subcommittees, including the Government Operations subcommittee that he himself chairs.