Back in the early Pleistocene, when I was a junior Congressional staffer, any overseas travel by groups of Congressmen (officially “codels,” [“COngressional DELegations”], unofficially “junkets”) was arranged through the State Department. I was going to ask whether the Pelosi trip to Damascus, which the wingnuts are now alleging was a Logan Act violation (?!), was different, but Rep. Nick Rahall beat me to the punch. Not only was the State Department involved in every meeting, Speaker Pelosi told President Bush personally about the trip the day before the delegation left, and Bush made no objection.
House Foreign Affairs (or, even better, Senate Foreign Relations) ought to hold hearings on this right after the Easter Recess. Let’s have the members of the delegation, the Republican Members who visited Damascus just before and just after the bipartisan Pelosi group, Assistant Secretary of State Saurbrey, who visited Damascus in March, and the State Department officials who helped arrange the trip testify about whether there was ever any objection to the trip before it happened either from the State Department or from the White House. And let’s have written questions to the White House about whether the conversation Rep. Rahall recounts actually took place.
It seems to me that the Republicans are in a cleft stick. Either the trip was a bad idea and the administration deliberately let it happen so they’d have a chance to criticize Pelosi, or it wasn’t a bad idea and the administration decided to raise a fuss about nothing. Either way, they wind up looking bad if the questions are pushed hard.
With the editors of the Washington Post and USA Today already on record criticizing Pelosi, it will take a Big Event to turn the media narrative around. But in this case a Big Event isn’t hard to arrange.
Update Greg Djerijian, who understands the Middle East better than I do, provides a more nuanced analysis: Pelosi was doing the right thing, he says, but overplayed her hand.