Beware of Devin Nunes’s Next Move

Every indication is that this is far from the end of the committee majority’s mischief. All signs instead point to this week’s developments as the beginning of a new chapter in the story, in which House Republicans go on the offensive to support President Trump — and fight the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

.. First, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, attempted to provide cover for President Trump’s false allegation that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. Mr. Nunes met with White House officials in secret and then held news conferences in which he claimed that the outgoing national security adviser, Susan Rice, and her colleagues had wrongly sought to “unmask” (i.e., identify by name) certain Trump associates in surveillance reports.

.. When that effort ran out of steam, Mr. Nunes and the majority shifted their attention to the process by which law enforcement agencies obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorization to conduct electronic monitoring of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

The committee released a highly misleading memo claiming that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice had abused their powers — claims which turned out to be unfounded.

The special counsel is examining three core issues:

  1. Did Russia attack the 2016 elections to aid Mr. Trump;
  2. did Mr. Trump or members of his campaign collude with the Russians to do so; and
  3. did Mr. Trump or others obstruct the investigation of these matters?

.. the majority report endeavors to gut the second question, declaring the absence of collusion altogether.

.. It would be a grave error to think the committee will stop here, especially its chairman. There is nothing in Mr. Nunes’s record to suggest that he will let up in the face of opposition

.. The so-called “Nunes memo,” although widely considered a flop, was just the first in a series that he has said he plans to issue.

.. The president and his supporters have argued that his constitutional power to direct the Justice Department and the F.B.I. and to fire their personnel means he cannot as a matter of law be held accountable for obstructing an investigation.

.. we fully expect them to weigh in on the side of the president, and against accountability.

.. Should Mr. Mueller move to compel the president to testify by obtaining a grand jury subpoena, for example, look for them to back arguments circulated by Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the special counsel has not met the threshold for such a step.

.. We also expect more overt attacks on Mr. Mueller himself

.. We must in addition look for Representative Nunes and his ilk to back the president should he seek to install a crony in one of the positions within the Justice Department that oversees the Mueller investigation.

.. Mr. Trump instead can try to throttle him by replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, with a compliant soul who can slowly choke off Mr. Mueller by cutting his budget, trimming his staff or curtailing the scope of his review.

.. In a week in which there has already been a major cabinet reshuffle, with the firings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and one of his top aides, Steve Goldstein, the possibility of such a move looms larger

.. When Mr. Nunes released his first memo, there were ominous rumblings that it was intended to target Mr. Rosenstein for his alleged role in FISA warrant abuses. When the memo fell flat, the rumors faded away. We would hardly be surprised to see a renewed effort against him — and his boss.

.. The special counsel must gird himself for this battle, and all of us must be ready to defend him.

Republicans might be about to take a licking

O’Rourke produced a photo of himself as a tyke wearing a sweater emblazoned with “Beto.” One would think Cruz would be more sympathetic to a child just trying to fit in, especially since he tweaked his own given middle name, Edward, to become Ted.

..  Murphy, a professed abortion opponent, seemed to suggest that a woman with whom he’d had an affair should seek an abortion when the two thought she might be pregnant. Incensed when she spotted a March for Life posting on his public Facebook account, she texted him: “And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week . . . ”


Après Cohn, le Deluge?

Trump’s top economic adviser departs, and the administration’s grown-ups worry.

Mr. Trump’s washing-machine and solar-panel salvo was to be followed by a focus on China’s unfair trade practices, namely intellectual-property theft. The president would announce narrowly targeted trade actions against that country, while holding aluminum and steel tariffs in reserve. All this would be choreographed around renegotiation of the North American and Korea-U.S. free trade agreements.

.. Mr. Ross took advantage of the situation last week to get the president’s ear, and back we were to the days of Mr. Trump spinning out on the advice of the last person in the room.

.. few know that he spent this past weekend talking the president down from an even more Planet Mars idea from Team Ross —to set tariffs closer to 50%.

.. Mr. Ross (a former steel executive) and the nativist Peter Navarro have driven out their biggest free-market opponent, increasing their ability to wreak harm on the economy.

The voices of those who actually understand economic policy are greatly diminished, as evidenced this week by the administration’s endless loop of fact-free and near fantastical claims about the effects of the tariffs.

His shabby treatment has more than a few of the grown-ups now actively considering their own exit plans. It’s one thing to do battle daily; it’s another to watch months of work get flushed on a whim, and get publicly branded a “globalist” to boot. Mr. Cohn’s top deputy, Jeremy Katz, departed just as soon as the tax deal passed, and watch for other Cohn staffers—many of them important free-market voices—to follow.

.. Imagine a Trump presidency without Mr. Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Don McGahn, Mick Mulvaney, Kevin Hassett. Consider, too, that no one as good is likely to replace them—now having seen how the White House works.

And don’t forget congressional Republicans, whom Mr. Trump has potentially set up for a midterm rout.

Many are furious that he has forced them to call him out, splitting the party. But they are also legitimately fearful the tariffs will spark trade war and destroy tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs, neutralizing the benefits of the hard-won tax reform.

The economy is the best thing Republicans have going for them in November, and the Trump-Ross-Navarro trio just embraced the only policy that could kill it.

Just how bad it is will depend hugely on Mr. Cohn’s successor.

.. Besides, who in his right mind would even want the job?

Gary Cohn’s Breaking Point

Whatever the case, Cohn couldn’t take it. His departure demolishes three theories, cherished by administration apologists, as to why the Trump presidency will be a success (or at the least not a disaster) despite the temperament of the man at the top.

Theory No. 1: The grown-ups are in charge.

  • In the trade debate, Cohn lost out to the third-tier White House official Peter Navarro, who likes to hang around the West Wing in hopes of sneaking in to see the president.
  • On immigration, 32-year old Michele Bachmann acolyte Stephen Miller runs the show.
  • H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, is widely reported to be seeking an exit.
  • His deputy Dina Powell already made her escape.
  • Reince Priebus was once supposed to be a White House grown-up, and look at what happened to him. His successor,
  • John Kelly, was supposed to quell the disorder, but has just as frequently contributed to it.

In most administrations, senior officials strive to stay in office a full term, or two years at the least. It’s supposed to be the honor of a lifetime.

Theory No. 2: Trump doesn’t believe his own crazy rhetoric.

The trade deficit has been a fixation of Trump’s since at least the 1980s.

  1. Withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was his first shot at it.
  2. Last week’s announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs were the second.
  3. Terminating Nafta will be his third.

.. What makes the tariff episode more alarming is that Trump announced the policy without any effort at a coherent policymaking process. It simply landed on Cohn much as news of a North Korean nuclear test might: radioactive and beyond his control. If Trump feels no compunction doing this to Cohn, what’s to stop him from behaving similarly with, say, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis?

.. As for Russia, Bob Mueller’s probe into potential collusion has made foreign policy cooperation untenable — but that only holds as long as the probe continues.

Theory No. 3: Serious Republicans will contain Trump’s follies.

It’s nice to see Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham contradict the president on tariffs. But they and other so-called principled Republicans will surely fold on this, just as they have folded on immigration, the border wall and Trump himself.

.. Now the party’s steady transformation into an American version of France’s National Front is probably unstoppable.

Republicans unhappy with that drift — paging Nebraska Sen. Ben . Sasse — should leave while they can with honor intact. Gary Cohn’s exit isn’t just another resignation. It’s also a final warning.