National News

Feinstein receives unexpected help from Trump

Posted January 10, 2018 6:34 p.m. EST

Byline: By John Wildermuth

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, facing a re-election challenge from a fellow Democrat, has received some unexpected -- and unintended -- help from President Trump.

In an angry tweet, Trump attacked her as ``Sneaky Dianne'' for releasing a transcript from the Senate Judiciary Committee probe into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian intelligence sources.

``The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace,'' the president tweeted Wednesday morning. ``Must have tough Primary!''

But if the 84-year-old Feinstein was facing a tougher-than-expected battle from Democratic state Sen. Kevin de Leon, Trump inadvertently may have made her road to re-election a lot easier.

``Every Democratic politician is lining up to get in a Twitter war with Trump,'' said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego. ``This couldn't be more perfect for her.''

While Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, always has been known as a consensus-seeking moderate, that's not always a popular position in California during the Trump era.

The senator's off-hand suggestion last August that Trump still ``can be a good president'' if he learns from his mistakes and changes his positions, brought howls of anger and promises of retribution from California progressives.

Feinstein's ``primary (political) weakness was a concern that she has not been tough enough on Trump,'' Kousser said. ``Now she has exactly the battle scars she needs to bring back to show the California left.''

Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been wrangling for weeks with GOP leaders over the direction the panel should take in the Russian influence probe. And while she has said, as Trump stated, that the committee had not found evidence of collusion, she has been quick to add that the investigation is not finished.

On Tuesday, Feinstein released the 312-page transcript of the committee's 10-hour interview with Glenn R. Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, a private research company. The interview focused on the work Fusion GPS' did for Democrats during the 2016 campaign, including a dossier assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele that suggested the Trump campaign had dealings with the Russians.

Republicans on the committee were quick to attack Fusion GPS' work as biased and Steele's report as part of a ``witch hunt'' against Trump that contained possible criminal misstatements. They refused, however, to release the transcript of the interview.

Feinstein disagreed and, on her own, made the transcript public.

``The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,'' she said in a statement Tuesday. ``The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.''

While the committee's chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was quick to claim that Feinstein's decision ``undermines the integrity of the committee's oversight work,'' it played much better in California.

``We want Sen. Feinstein to know we support her in this decision'' to release the transcript, said Steve Rapport, a leader of the progressive group Indivisible SF, adding that its members were ``glad she's doing what she can to resist the Trump agenda, especially in light of Trump's direct personal attack on Twitter.''

Politics likely had at least something to do with Feinstein's decision to challenge Trump and the GOP leadership directly, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political communications professor at the University of Southern California.

``If this wasn't an election year, with her facing a fairly significant challenge, she might not have decided to release the transcript,'' Jeffe said.

But this isn't the first time Feinstein has decided to buck political leaders and push ahead with her own view of what's best for the country.

``She's been in the foreign policy arena for so long that she trusts her judgment on what the American public needs to know,'' Kousser of UCSD said.

In 2014, Feinstein, then head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, decided to go against both Democratic and Republican leaders and release a 500-page summary of a far longer report of the use of torture by the CIA.

``Nobody wants to do something that is going to bring on any kind of attack,'' Feinstein told reporters after her hour-long speech from the Senate floor describing the report. ``But I came to the conclusion that America's greatness is being able to say we made a mistake and we are going to correct it and go from there.''

That history makes Feinstein's battle with Trump even more politically significant, Jeffe added.

``It's smart politically, but not at all out of character,'' she said. With the senator frustrated by Republican objections, blocked by the committee and confident that what she's doing is right, ``It's a very Dianne Feinstein type of move.''