Vermont's sole delegate to the U.S. House is poised to play a significant role in a revived congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday named Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The panel oversees the nation's 17 intelligence entities, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is widely expected to reopen a shuttered probe of alleged ties between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.
Welch said Wednesday that he had asked Pelosi for the appointment because he was “extremely concerned about the breakdown of this committee from its traditional, vital function.” He criticized its last chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), for politicizing the panel and using it to defend the president against what Welch sees as legitimate inquiries.
“In the past two years, what we’ve seen is that the committee has lost its way,” Welch said. “It really became, under Mr. Nunes, basically a political arm of the Trump administration.”
Though the committee cleared the president’s campaign of wrongdoing last spring in a highly criticized report, its new Democratic leaders are expected to revive the investigation. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), its new chair, has begun hiring investigators and has pledged to pursue allegations of money laundering by the president’s family business, the Trump Organization.
Welch said he only learned of his appointment Wednesday and had not yet been briefed on the scope of the committee’s work. At least two other House panels — the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee — are also expected to investigate the president. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is widely believed to be wrapping up his own probe.
“There’s immense evidence from the Mueller investigation that many high-level people, including [Trump’s] campaign manager, had direct contact with Russian operatives,” Welch said, referring to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Asked whether he believed Trump himself would be implicated, Welch said, “I’ll wait to see what the Mueller investigation finds.”
The Vermont politician has been reticent about whether the new Democratic majority in the House should seek to impeach the president. “I mean, I think we’ve gotta let the Mueller investigation do its job,” Welch said Wednesday. He added, “I’m extremely concerned about President Trump, his behavior and increasingly concerned about his stability.”
The new appointment is somewhat of a departure for Welch, who has mostly served on domestic policy committees during his dozen years in Congress, though he has served on an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security.
Welch will remain on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has wide-ranging jurisdiction over health care, energy and telecommunications. He said it was unlikely that he would be reappointed to the oversight committee this Congress.
In a press release announcing the membership of the intelligence committee, Pelosi said that Welch and three other new appointees would "bring exceptional judgment, expertise and determination to our mission" of defending the Constitution.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.