Kimberley A. Strassel
Attorney Roy Cohn talking to American senator Joseph McCarthy (right), circa 1954. Photo: Getty Images
By Kimberley A. Strassel
Tactics in the Trump probe are starting to look a lot like McCarthyism.
Democrats have spent weeks making the case that the Russia-Trump probes need to continue, piling on demands for more witnesses and documents. So desperate is the left to keep this Trump cudgel to hand that Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have moved toward neo- McCarthyism.
If that sounds hyperbolic, consider an email recently disclosed by the Young Turks Network, a progressive YouTube news channel. It’s dated Dec. 19, 2017, and its author is April Doss, senior counsel for the committee’s Democrats, including Vice Chairman Mark Warner.
Ms. Doss was writing to Robert Barnes, an attorney for Charles C. Johnson, the controversial and unpleasant alt-right blogger. Mr. Johnson’s interactions with Julian Assange inspired some in the media to speculate last year that Mr. Johnson had served as a back channel between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. There’s still no proof, but in July the Intelligence Committee sent a letter requesting Mr. Johnson submit to them any documents, emails, texts or the like related to "any communications with Russian persons” in a variety of 2016 circumstances, including those related to "the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign.”
Mr. Barnes seems to have wanted clarification from Ms. Doss about the definition of "Russian persons.” And this would make sense, since it’s a loose term. Russians in Russia? Russians in America? Russians with business in the country? Russians who lobby the U.S. and might be affected by the election—though not in contact with campaigns?
Ms. Doss’s response was more sweeping than any of these: "The provision we discussed narrowing was clarifying that the phrase ‘Russian persons’ in [the committee letter] may be read to refer to persons that Mr. Johnson knows or has reason to believe are of Russian nationality or descent” (emphasis added).
If this stands, Democrats will have gone far beyond criminalizing routine government contacts with Russians, which is disturbing enough. Trump transition and administration officials have been smeared and subjected to exhaustive investigation merely for doing their job, which includes interacting with Russian officials or diplomats. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has spent the past year having to justify why, as a U.S. senator, he shook hands with the Russian ambassador. The running joke in today’s Washington is that one risks a subpoena merely for ordering a salad with Russian dressing.
But the definition in the Doss letter potentially takes all this much further. It could be that Ms. Doss was simply trying to prevent a recalcitrant witness from evading legitimate requests. But it could mean you are now officially under suspicion by the U.S. government—subject to requisitioning your emails and texts or getting your own subpoena—if your parents or even great-great-grandparents were Russkis. By some estimates, the Russian-American community is more than three million strong, and quite a few of them are Mr. Warner’s congressional colleagues, including Bernie Sanders.
This comes from a Democratic Party that supposedly rejects group-based discrimination. Substitute the words "Arab or Arab background” into a hypothetical Republican version of the letter, and the left would melt down—not without reason.
The Doss letter suggests this is of a piece with the Democrats’ manic effort to keep the Trump-Russia investigations going, no matter what. As Republican congressional leaders have hinted that their probes may be wrapping up, the left’s demands and tactics have become ever more desperate. The Washington Post this past weekend ran a piece straight out of House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff’s talking points, regurgitating complaints that Chairman Devin Nunes has run an incomplete probe. The accusation inspired House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to quip that Mr. Schiff’s desired witness list is "pretty much every character in any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy novel.”
The House Intelligence committee has collected nearly 300,000 documents, conducted 67 transcribed witness interviews, and issued 18 subpoenas. It’s held 11 hearings, taken 164 hours of testimony, and reviewed 5,251 pages of that testimony. It’s spent 346 days investigating Russian meddling. The country deserves the committee’s final recommendations as to how to avoid further Russian interference, especially given we are again in an election year.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr isn’t necessarily off the hook here, given that his own counsel was copied on the Doss email. Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen told me: "As committee leaders have said many, many times, we do not comment on individual witnesses or related requests, even if correspondences are selectively and misleadingly leaked to the media by figures like Chuck Johnson.”
But Messrs. Burr and Warner would be wise to remember that their staff works in their name, and that such outrageous tactics risk turning their roost into a modern version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.