Special Counsel Draws Partisan Reactions From Oregon

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Oregon May 20, 2017 12:30 a.m.

Oregon’s senior Sen. Ron Wyden said he supports the naming of a special counsel to investigate possible ties between the Trump Administration and Russia.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller this week after intensifying calls for such a step, especially from Democrats.


In an interview Friday on "The Takeaway," Wyden emphasized the significance of information the public has already heard, some of it from the president himself.

“When you have the president, in his own words, firing the FBI director to end an investigation into his campaign, I believe that is an attack on our democratic institutions," Wyden said. "If you go by what the president admitted on national television, it looks pretty grim.”

Wyden, a Democrat, repeated his call to follow financial connections in the case.

He also wants close scrutiny of top officials, like CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, who led Trump’s transition team. Wyden suggested Pence should have to answer for the hiring of General Michael Flynn as national security advisor — a job Flynn held for only a few weeks before being forced out by the growing Russia scandal.

“I think people need to remember that the vice president, Mike Pence, was head of Trump’s transition when Michael Flynn, for example, was hired," Wyden said. "[Former acting Attorney General] Sally Yates said the other day before the Congress that she was concerned that Flynn was at risk of being blackmailed by the Russians.”


Wyden sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which frequently holds closed meetings, due to the sensitivity of its discussions. The committee is one of the congressional bodies investigating possible connections between President Trump and Russia.

Wyden wants those discussions to be held publicly as often as possible, rather than “bottled up” in private meetings.

Late Friday, the committee announced that former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, has agreed to testify in a publicly open hearing after Memorial Day.

Oregon's Republican leaders, on the other hand, are giving muted support for the naming of a special counsel, saying in a statement they “respect” the move.

"[B]ut it should be noted that all of the allegations and investigations leading up to this appointment have amounted to nothing more than a political witch-hunt," said the Oregon Republican Party in a statement released by spokesman Kevin Hoar.

The GOP statement goes on to argue that there was "no collusion between the president's campaign and any foreign entity — and there has never been one shred of evidence to suggest otherwise."

Admissions of contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, however, have led to the dismissal of General Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from Russia investigations. The intelligence community has also said they've found evidence of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Oregon GOP statement emphasized moving away from a "hyper-partisan, media-fueled frenzy" and focusing instead on critical policy efforts. The party argues the country is headed in a "positive direction," when it comes to job growth and immigration, for instance.

But the policy arena is also fertile ground for Trump administration critics, including Oregon's other U.S. senator, Jeff Merkley.

Related: Q&A: Sen. Jeff Merkley Talks Filibuster, 'Nuclear' Option

Merkley, also a Democrat, held a rally-style media event in downtown Portland on Friday to confront the Trump administration over the healthcare bill that recently passed the House of Representatives.

Merkley avoided mention of Russia and instead had nurses, a doctor and frustrated patients speak in favor of Obamacare, and in opposition to what Merkley called "Trumpcare."

Speakers at Merkley's rally blasted how the Republican-backed American Health Care Act might affect people with pre-existing conditions and those who have received health insurance through Medicaid expansions in states like Oregon.

Health care has drawn questions from one of Oregon's top elected Republicans as well, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

His office released a report this week showing millions of dollars from the Oregon Health Authority may be improperly supporting benefits for ineligible recipients.