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Democrats want to use Flynn scandal to damage Trump. Here's why they'll fail

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has resigned over his questionable conduct with Russian officials during the transition period. Case closed, right?

Wrong.

Congressional Democrats and others on the left are pushing for more formal investigations into the Trump administration's possible illegal or unethical connections to Moscow during and after the 2016 election. Many of them are envisioning the discovery of some proof that President Donald Trump is indeed under the undue influence of the Vladimir Putin regime and that it will constitute an impeachable offense. This is the current anti-Trump dream scenario.

There's only one problem with it: None of the above can happen unless at least some key Republicans go along. That pesky GOP majority in both houses of Congress along with control of all the key committee chairmanships could easily block any attempt to take this Flynn/Russia probe any further. But let's look at those key Republicans to see who, if any, are likely to crack and for what reasons.

So far, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devon Nunes isn't cracking. Nunes could launch a serious probe with some of the best tools at his disposal compared to his GOP colleagues in committees with less security clearance. But CNN reported early Tuesday that Nunes still has no intention of pursuing the Flynn matter any further, and Monday night he expressed public support for the Trump administration's efforts to track down the source of the leaks about Flynn and other White House matters.

In addition, Nunes represent's California's 22nd congressional district which is about as solidly Republican as it can get in the Golden State. Trump won that district by 10 percentage points and no Democrat has won a majority of the votes there in any major election in more than 16 years.

The next Republican to look at closely is House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz from Utah. At first blush, Chaffetz seems like he could be a very good candidate to cave to anti-Trump pressure. He was never a strong Trump supporter during the election, and only begrudging admitted he was going to vote for him in late October.

Now, every Democrat on his committee just signed a letter to Chaffetz demanding he open an investigation into Flynn. And finally, that letter came on the heels of a raucous town hall meeting back in Chaffetz's home district last week when several attendees shouted at the Congressman to "do his job" and scrutinize President Trump's many alleged conflict of interest issues.

Could Chaffetz cave under that kind of pressure, especially when some of it presumably comes from his deep red Republican district? Don't bet on it. First off, as loud as some of those town hall meeting attendees were, we have no idea whether they were just coming from a few Democrats in Chaffetz's district, or if they were even residents of his district.

And remember when all the experts told us then-candidate Trump was in big trouble in Utah in November? It turned out he won the state by an extremely comfortable 18 percentage points, and a conservative revolt effort led by Utah "favorite son" candidate Evan McMullin fell horribly flat.

Chaffetz himself insists that protesters at his town hall were paid "astroturf" activists hoping to look like they were locals. Based on the November election results, where Chaffetz won re-election by 47 percentage points and President Trump won by 24 percentage points, he may have a point. Either way, the chances Chaffetz will be the first one to break with his party and scrutinize the Trump White House also seem remote.

"No matter how severe the scandal, Congressional investigations of a presidential administration almost never happen when the president's party is in control of congress."

That brings us to the Senate, where some of the president's most vocal Republican critics are Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. That's good news for Democrats hoping to push a deep and damaging probe, right? Wrong. Their trouble in the upper house is that Graham holds no significant committee chairmanship and McCain's role as Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee would not give him much jurisdiction on Flynn.

Meanwhile, the committee with the most oversight here would be Homeland Security and Governmental Affair panel chaired by Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson. And Johnson just said in a televised interview Monday night that he's willing to leave it to the Trump White House to get to the bottom of the Flynn matter.

Beyond the committee chairmanships, you also have the crucial fact that neither House Speaker Paul Ryan nor Senate Majority Mitch McConnell are likely to flip on President Trump for now. Mr. Trump may not be a traditional Republican by any stretch, but the GOP powers in Congress are simply not going to stop protecting their own. No matter how severe the scandal, Congressional investigations of a presidential administration almost never happen when the president's party is in control of congress.

Would a Republican-controlled Congress in the 1970s convened and conducted the damaging Watergate hearings looking into the Nixon White House? Probably not. Would Congress have been willing and able to launch the Iran-Contra hearings into the Reagan administration in 1987 had the Democrats not won control of the Senate in 1986? Nope. Would a Democratic Party-controlled Congress impeached President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998-99? Of course not. The game is played out in the polls, not so much based on hard facts.

As they say: "Elections have consequences." And it's going to take much more egregious evidence against Flynn or a significant change in the polls to goose any Republican members of Congress to formally go after this administration.

Flynn most likely left because of internal pressure from the White House itself. As long as Congress is made up of these existing GOP majorities, that's going to be the only way to really eliminate any individual members of this team. And with the Trump team still serving the GOP with occasional but significant red meat like the Judge Neil Gorsuch nomination and the promise of major tax cuts, Washington's partisan default self-preservation tradition isn't going to end here or now.

The Flynn/Russia scandal may produce a few more embarrassing revelations and salacious headlines, but real political damage is still a stretch at least until the Democrats' next chance to retake Congress in 2018.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.