WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27:  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) talks to reporters outside the committee's secure meeting room in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center February 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Nunes talked about his committee's Russia investigation.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House intel chair investigating Obama-era deal
01:25 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

For months, Congressional Republicans have watched in a combination of wonderment and terror as President Donald Trump has swerved all over the political world – picking fights, fueling controversies and, generally speaking, making a mess of things.

On Tuesday, Republicans finally took some action – doing one of the only things left to them: They launched investigations of the past Democratic administration and the last Democratic presidential nominee!

House Intelligence Commitee Chairman Devin Nunes announced Monday afternoon his committee – along with the Oversight and Government Reform Committee – was opening up a probe into a US-Russia uranium deal that occurred during when Barack Obama was president and Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. “We’re not going to jump to any conclusions at this time,” insisted Nunes.

Meanwhile, House oversight alongside the House judiciary committee announced their plans to look into how the Department of Justice handled the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“Decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016 have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered,” said Oversight chair Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte of Virginia in a joint statement. “Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken.”

To be clear: House Republicans are totally within their rights to open these probes. Doing so is one of the luxuries of being in the majority in the House (and Senate). (Related: The ability to open these sorts of congressional investigations is why Donald Trump should be very worried about losing control of the House or Senate – or both! – in the 2018 midterms.)

But, it is not a coincidence that these two probes were announced on the same day – and amid Trump’s ongoing circular firing squad routine. There are NO coincidences in politics. Just not a thing.

What Congressional Republicans are trying to do is two-fold: 1) Change the subject from Trump and Russia, Trump and his fights with his own party, his constant tweeting etc. and b) do some service for their base.

Let’s take those one at a time.

Right now, everything that comes from Capitol Hill is bad for Republicans. The House and Senate Intelligence committees’ investigations into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election continue on, with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testifying today and tomorrow. Trump feuds with Republican senators – most notably, today at least, Bob Corker. Healthcare reform is dead (for now). Tax reform remains a somewhat shady proposition.

Bad, bad, bad and bad if you are a Congressional Republican. And that’s even before we talk about the signs that suggest a Democratic wave could well be building out in the water leading into 2018.

A change in the conversation is very necessary. Voila! Launch two investigations into the possibility of wrongdoing by the Democrats. Whether or not anything is found that implicates Obama, Clinton or lower level Democratic figures – and it could be! – the mission is accomplished for Republicans: They’ve created a storyline that isn’t all bad for them.

Which brings me to the second point: Both of these investigations are aimed squarely at making sure the Republican base knows that GOPers in Congress are paying attention to what they care about and trying to get answers for them.

Conservatives – and Trump – have continued to beat the drum that deposed FBI Director James Comey and the broader FBI badly mishandled the investigation into Clinton’s email server. (Democrats – including Hillary Clinton – blame Comey’s last-minute re-opening of the probe for costing her the election.)

The latest bit of fodder are documents released by the FBI earlier this month that suggest Comey had begun preparing his remarks about not charging Clinton prior to the investigation fully wrapping up.

Then there is the uranium sale, which has, of late, become a major issue in conservative circles. At issue is the sale of a major uranium company from Canada to Russia in 2010, a move approved by the Clinton State Department. The Clinton Foundation received donations from that Russian company and, according to The Hill newspaper, the FBI was investigating those donations and whether they played any role in the deal being approved.

There’s no doubt that Republicans believe more questions than answers exist in both the email and uranium stories. But, there’s also no doubt that this coordinated launch of two investigations into the potential missteps of a past Democratic administration is not an accident.

It’s a clear attempt to change the subject, and to have something to bring to GOP voters who might think all Washington is doing is investigating Trump and blocking his preferred legislation.