While an occasional voice of sanity pops up now and then — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) (on a good day), retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) (every day) — none of the voices urging strict oversight of President Trump, protection for the special prosecutor and a willingness to shut down the smear campaign against the FBI are in the Republican leadership in either house.
Graham on Sunday called for legislation to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III; House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) dismissed the idea. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) decries attacks on the Mueller; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) lifts not a finger to restrain, let alone remove, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who is prepared to endanger national security with the release of his memo and spends waking hours thinking up new smears to hurl at the intelligence community.
You see embarrassing exchanges with McCarthy like this one on “Meet the Press”:
CHUCK TODD: Is there some — is there a red line the president could cross with you in his treatment of Bob Mueller?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: Look, the president and his team have fully cooperated. So I don’t, you’re making hypotheticals. Right now–
CHUCK TODD: It’s not a hypothetical. We have reports that he ordered it to do it. And Don McGahn threatened to quit if asked to carry out the order.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: This is a place that I have not been a part of. I have not heard that. The only thing I’ve seen is cooperation going forward. And I think that’s where they intend to end up.
He hasn’t heard that? It’s this sort of slippery evasion and see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach that sets the pattern for other Republicans. (The White House, by the way, has yet to deny multiple news organizations’ reports that Trump wanted to fire Mueller last year.) But it gets worse:
CHUCK TODD: Would you support legislation to protect Mueller?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller. So we’re raising an issue that’s not. At the same time, we’ve got an issue about funding for the military. Chuck, remember this, one week ago when you were sitting here, government was shut down. Democrats believed government should be shut down trying to hold it hostage. The children’s health insurance program and others. I think what’s responsible for us to do is do the job that’s before us. If there’s an issue that arrives, we’ll take it up at that time. But right now there is not an issue. So why create one when there isn’t a place for it?
Deny, deflect, spread conspiracy theories to smear the FBI. It’s the playbook from which other Republicans take their cue. He takes up the conspiratorialists cause, to release a memo Nunes drafted:
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: Having read this memo, I think it would be appropriate that the public has full view of it.
CHUCK TODD: And you don’t believe this is somehow the president tampering with the investigation? How does this not look like that if he does.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: Because it has nothing to do with the president right now. It is the committee doing their work who have found something, voted as a committee of the whole. And remember why the intel committee was created based upon what was happening in the executive branch from the C.I.A. and F.B.I. and others. So they have oversight of it. They made a vote for the public or for the members of Congress to look at it. Now they can vote to send it to the executive branch. And they could have say of whether to release it.
Actually, it has everything to do with Trump who is calling for the memo to be released. And when it comes to putting national security at risk, McCarthy is unabashed:
CHUCK TODD: Why don’t you want Senator Burr to look at it? He’s chairman of the Senate Intel Committee. Why not?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: Well, the intel committee in the Senate’s doing their investigation. We’re doing ours.
CHUCK TODD: He asked to see it.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: If we release it–
CHUCK TODD: He has to see it first. Why not —
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: — well, that’s a question for Devin Nunes, the chair.
And the conclusion of the intelligence community that this would do real damage to the intelligence community appears not to register with McCarthy.
Both Ryan and McCarthy are complicit in the counterattack on the FBI and the special prosecutor. They set the tone for the nonstop assault on Mueller and the Justice Department, setting their caucus loose to create a fog of confusion. They see their roles as the defense team for Trump, not the leaders of a co-equal branch of government obligated to check the excesses of the executive. They in all likelihood will not insulate the special prosecutor nor prevent Nunes from damaging national security or doing lasting damage to the FBI.
Jonathan Chait writes, “All the icky stuff Trump does, the corruption and disdain for the rule of law, is Trump’s business. Ryan’s defenders have accepted this and woven it into the broader rationale for conservative acceptance of Trump’s presidency. What are they supposed to do — oppose conservative policy that they agree with?”
Why, defend the Constitution, of course. Pass legislation to prevent another assault on the special prosecutor. Publicly chastise those making baseless charges against our premier law enforcement agency. You know, abide by their oath of office. Fat chance that’s going to happen.