Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) faced angry questions over his refusal to demand an independent investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia during a Saturday town hall packed with hundreds of constituents.
Most of a 900-seat auditorium at Raritan Valley Community College was filled on Saturday, according to NJ.com. Lance, the only Republican member of Congress to hold a town hall in the state this week, drew shouting from the audience when he repeatedly declined to support efforts to launch a Russia inquiry.
“At the moment, I favor the investigations that are occurring by the two intelligence committees, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee,” he told the audience.
He said he was encouraged by the fact that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and its Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) had together sent a letter to the White House requesting the it preserve documents regarding possible involvement between the Trump administration or the his presidential campaign and the Russian government.
“It’s my experience that the intelligence committees work in a bipartisan fashion,” Lance added.
His insistence that the House and Senate Intelligence committees would look into the matter prompted audience members to shout, “Read The Washington Post!” On Friday, the Post reported that the White House had asked the chairman of the House and Senate intelligence committee to counter news reports about Trump’s ties to Russia.
One man in the audience asked Lance whether he would sponsor legislation to compel Trump to release his tax returns. When Lance simply said he thought the president should release the documents, the audience began chanting “yes or no!”
Lance eventually said he did not think there should be legislation forcing Trump to release the documents.
“Congressman, we expect you to put your country before your party,” said the man who asked the question also reminding Lance that he was up for re-election next year. Lance is one of several New Jersey Republicans that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting in next year’s cycle.
The crowd also got loud when Lance declined to condemn White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and previously led Breitbart, which gives a platform to white nationalists. Nor did Lance call for the Trump adviser’s removal from the National Security Council.
The congressman said he believed the president could decide whom he wanted to appoint to the NSC and that he trusted H.R. McMaster, the president’s new national security adviser, would give him advice.
“We think you need to lead us, we think you need to decide. We rely on you,” the woman who asked the question said. The crowd also broke into a chant of “renounce Steve Bannon.”
The White House and many Republicans have tried to discredit recent outrage at Republican town halls across the country by claiming the people attending them are professional protesters or paid to heckle. There is no evidence to support that claim, and Lance said at his Saturday town hall that he didn’t think anyone in the audience was paid to be there.
Lance also held a town hall Wednesday, but he scheduled Saturday’s event because demand for another one earlier this week was so high, according to Politico. Constituents at the town hall on Wednesday asked him similar pointed questions.
Protesters also showed up outside Lance’s Saturday town hall.
The congressman also acknowledged that many Republicans across the country were choosing not to hold town halls this week. One of the ways he believed members could clean up Washington, D.C., was to be given more time to spend in their districts, he said.
“I think it’s an important part of my responsibility that I hold town hall meetings,” he added.
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