In N.H., Russia probe has bipartisan support thanks to special prosecutor

Monitor staff
Thursday, May 18, 2017

One thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on these days is there’s too much drama coming out of the White House.

Each day has brought a new bombshell since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last week. The firing was followed by revelations Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and leaked classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.

Now, New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans alike are praising the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“This is an issue we need to get to the bottom of,” said veteran GOP strategist Jim Merrill. 

Merrill said he fully supports the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to the Russia investigation, and said he hopes Trump will get back to focusing on the Republican legislative agenda in Washington.

Trump was elected on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, reform the tax code and bring major changes to the immigration system, all while sparking domestic prosperity.

“He’s not getting any of that done right now,” Merrill said. “The drama coming out of the White House is counterproductive. Right now, no one’s getting any direction from the White House.”

Merrill isn’t the only New Hampshire Republican concerned with what he’s seeing out of Washington.

Former New Hampshire GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn recently wrote a op-ed in the Daily Caller calling for Trump to endorse an independent investigation into ties between Russia and his presidential campaign.

Horn said on MSNBC that New Hampshire Republicans “are really starting to express concern” about the news.

“I think that when Donald Trump became president, even those folks who perhaps were reluctant Donald Trump supporters or reluctant Trump voters came at it with the idea that he would be surrounding himself with good people and smart people, and you want him to succeed,” Horn said, adding that people “are starting to question now whether or not he is going to be able to step into this role as president and do an effective job.”

Still, Trump is not without steadfast supporters in New Hampshire.

Former state Rep. Steve Stepanek, a co-chair of Trump’s New Hampshire campaign and one of the president’s earliest supporters, said he blames the media for exacerbating the situation.

“I’m very suspect of all of this,” Stepanek said. “I think there’s no question that the mainstream media and the left is out to get Donald Trump at any cost. They’re not going to give him one iota of a break.”

Stepanek said he thinks the national media have a double standard when it comes to Trump and former president Barack Obama.

“The overriding things that I hear from Republicans is the frustration they get with the dual system that we seem to have, where when Obama was first president, he couldn’t do anything wrong,” Stepanek said. “There’s more frustration with the media than anything.”

Though Stepanek said he didn’t think there was a need for a special prosecutor to take on the Russia investigation, he hopes it will placate Trump’s critics.

“There is nothing there, they haven’t found anything,” he said. “I think bringing in a special prosecutor was premature, but now that it’s been done, it will hopefully silence the liberal media and the left.”

Unlike fellow Republican governors Phil Scott and Charlie Baker, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu stayed out of the debate on an independent investigation.

“The activity down in Washington seems to be very fluid,” a Sununu spokesman told NHPR. “Governor Sununu is focused on addressing our state’s most pressing issues, including reengineering our mental health system, rebuilding DCYF, and passing a fiscally responsible budget.”

The tumultuous times at the White House come as Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway is slated to appear in New Hampshire for the second time in two weeks.

Conway is speaking at the state GOP’s “Spring to Victory” dinner on Thursday night. The dinner is closed to the press, breaking the tradition of past years. State GOP chairwoman Jeanie Forrester did not return a request for comment.

Conway was in New Hampshire last week for a meeting to discuss the opioid crisis with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Sununu and other state leaders.

Merrill isn’t attending Thursday’s dinner due to a scheduling conflict. He said he is still fully supportive of his party, but believes more Republicans need to be openly critical of Trump and push for change.

“As Republicans, we need to expect more of the president, we need to demand more of him,” he said. “I think that’s going to create a course correction here. He just ran a campaign, made a number of campaign promises, and too few of those promises are being realized.”

New Hampshire’s Democratic congressional delegation praised the decision to appoint Mueller as special counsel to continue the investigation.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Mueller is “widely respected” and has a “distinguished career” serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“This is very encouraging news, and his appointment should go a long way toward depoliticizing the investigation into Russia’s unprecedented interference in our election,” Shaheen said.

U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter both said they believed the move was a step in the right direction.

Kuster said she remained supportive of having an independent, bipartisan commission also look at possible ties, “for the sake of confidence in our institutions.”

Shea-Porter referenced recent reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post, which exposed many recent developments coming out of the White House.

“I don’t believe this step would have been achieved without pressure from the American people and hardworking journalists, and I thank all those who are fighting alongside us to follow the facts, wherever they may lead,” Shea-Porter said.

Sen. Maggie Hassan echoed her colleagues and said that it’s up to Congress to make sure there’s no outside interference into Mueller’s probe.

“Now, it is imperative that we ensure that Mueller is given true independence and the resources he needs to follow the facts wherever they may lead,” Hassan said.