Republican Rep. Jeff Denham deflected serious concerns about Donald Trump's unreleased tax returns and ties to Russia, absurdly comparing them to the "birther" conspiracy theory about President Obama.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) decided to reach for the absurd at a town hall meeting with his constituents by comparing the serious concerns they expressed to him about Donald Trump’s missing tax returns and his ties to Russian elements to the “birther” conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States.
Denham was asked by a voter if he would support an independent investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia, and if he would ask Trump to release his taxes.
In response, Denham said, “I’m not going to ask the previous president to show his birth certificate any more than I would ask this president to show his taxes.”
MODERATOR: So John has a two-part question for the congressman. Will you call for an independent non-partisan investigation of Donald Trump and Russia? (applause) And the second part, for the second part of this question is, will you ask Donald Trump to release his taxes? (applause)
DENHAM: So, yes and no. So let me start off with the first question. An independent investigation, first of all I believe that regardless of what the investigation is, it always starts in the House and Senate committees first. And so we have the Investigative Committee going on a bipartisan level in the House, we also have a Senate — let me finish. We also have a Senate one going on.
But our third, which is actually an independent body, an independent investigation, is the FBI, which is doing their own investigation right now. This is not something new — hold on now. This is not something new, this is something that I called for a year and a half ago.
Remember President Obama got on TV and said, ‘You guys knock it off, Russia,’ that there was something going on, he knew something was going wrong then. And I felt we needed to have an investigation back then, and I was pushing it. So, yes, under Democratic control, under Republican control, if you’re hacking into our system, if you’re trying to manipulate elections, then yes we need to hold whatever country is accountable. (applause)
QUESTION: So, will you introduce a bill on the floor saying that? Will you introduce a bill on the floor, for an independent ethics investigation to investigate [unintelligible] for the past election?
DENHAM: As I said, under the previous administration, I supported the House and Senate [unintelligible] for the [unintelligible]. But secondly, I would say the FBI needs to conclude its investigation.
(Crowd noise and moderator interjections.)
DENHAM: Now, wait a minute, part of your talking points here are, you’re chanting ‘Yes or no.’ You wanted me to give you a ‘yes or no’ answer, so I gave you a yes and a no. I said no, I won’t do it. So, you don’t want a yes or no, you want me to explain? Alright, let me explain. So, you do what me to explain, let me explain.
So, under the previous president — hold on. (jeers) But you want to know a larger explanation of how I look at these issues. So my job is to represent. That means, working with either Governor — Governor Schwarzenegger or Governor Brown — or President Obama, President Trump, or whether it’s [unintelligible]. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, I’d be trying to work with her as well. So when people ask me, as they did under the previous president, ‘Force him to show his birth certificate, will you introduce a bill to do that?’ No. (audience gets louder) I’m not going to ask the previous president that I served under to show his birth certificate any more than I would ask this president to show his taxes.
With this deflection, Denham adds himself to the growing ranks of Republican members of Congress who have offered up increasingly odd defenses of Trump as they face town hall resistance.
The line of defense offered by Denham is even more ludicrous because Trump himself spent much of the Obama presidency advocating for the birther conspiracy, appearing often on Fox News as something of an ambassador for the idea.
Dismissing these key issues as if they were conspiracy theories is dishonest, and it will not work. But Denham chose to try anyway.