After President Trump’s Terrible Tuesday, Republican lawmakers need to stop pretending that there are any red lines that he won’t cross.
Congressional Republicans have been operating under a see-no-evil policy with President Trump: ignoring his lying, his subversions of democratic norms and his attacks on government institutions or, when that’s not possible, dismissing such outrages as empty bluster — as Trump being Trump.
..Also on Tuesday, a federal jury convicted Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of bank and tax fraud. How did Mr. Trump react? More like a Mafia don than a guardian of the rule of law. While criticizing Mr. Cohen on Wednesday, the president tweeted that, by contrast, he had “such respect for a brave man” like Mr. Manafort, who “refused to ‘break’ … to get a ‘deal.’ ” The president, in other words, felt moved to praise a convicted felon for refusing to cooperate in the pursuit of justice.
.. And how did Republicans in Congress react? They didn’t, if they could avoid it. John Cornyn, the majority whip in the Senate, shrugged that he had “no idea about what the facts” of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea were “other than the fact that none of it has anything to do with the Russia investigation.” The office of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said it needed “more information.” Most members opted for silence.
.. When members of Mr. Trump’s party pooh-pooh his thuggish rantings and otherwise signal that they will overlook even his most dangerous behavior, they are inviting him to act out even more. Like a willful toddler, Mr. Trump lives to test limits.
.. Republican lawmakers need not attack Mr. Trump in order to stop enabling his worst impulses and begin distancing themselves from his corruption. They simply need to stop cowering. An obvious first step is for Congress to pass legislation protecting Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry
.. The president has toyed with the idea of firing Mr. Mueller and his superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, moves that would ignite a constitutional crisis. Lawmakers are deluding themselves to think that he won’t consider such radical acts again as his predicament grows more dire.
.. Much of the groundwork for a bill to protect the Russia investigation has already been laid, with a bipartisan plan having passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shamefully, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote
.. insisting that it is unnecessary because of course the president would never fire Mr. Mueller.
.. Mr. Ryan has spouted similar assurances. Then again, Mr. Ryan also laughed off the idea that Mr. Trump would strip his political critics of their security clearances, so clearly Republican leaders are not the best barometers of this president’s thinking.
.. Speaking of Mr. Ryan, the speaker needs to shut down the attacks on Mr. Rosenstein by Mr. Trump’s lackeys in the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.
.. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan threatened to force an impeachment vote on Mr. Rosenstein, claiming that he was impeding Congress’s harassment — uh, “investigation” — of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. When that plan flopped, the men set their sights on holding Mr. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress — which doesn’t sound as dramatic, but would, if successful, provide Mr. Trump an excuse to oust Mr. Rosenstein and replace him with a lap dog.
.. Once upon a time, campaign finance violations made congressional Republicans very angry indeed. During Bill Clinton’s second term, there was quite an uproar over allegations that the Chinese government had attempted to influence the 1996 presidential race via illegal campaign contributions. (Does Vice President Al Gore’s visit to a certain Buddhist temple ring any bells?)
.. His efforts to hide the money trail suggest he knew his behavior wasn’t kosher. And while the initial payments to the women were made before Mr. Trump won the election, he didn’t begin compensating Mr. Cohen until February of 2017 — thus any conspiracy was carried straight into the Oval Office.
.. Every week seems to bring fresh evidence that Mr. Trump, his inner circle and his main backers do not consider themselves bound by such pedestrian concepts as truth, ethics or the law. The latest confirmation for that was the corruption indictment of Representative Duncan Hunter, Mr. Trump’s second campaign supporter in the House. The first, Representative Chris Collins, was indicted two weeks ago on insider-trading charges.
Congress, unfortunately, remains crouched and trembling in a dark corner, hoping this is all a bad dream. It’s not. Republican lawmakers need to buck up, remind themselves of their constitutional responsibilities and erect some basic guardrails to ensure that — in a fit of rage, panic or mere pique — this president does not wake up one morning and decide to drive American democracy off a cliff.
Former U.S. district judge John S. Martin, writing in The Post to debunk the baseless proposal by House Freedom Caucus members to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, observes:
The actions of the Freedom Caucus members are not only baseless, they are also shameful. While they call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Rosenstein, it may be more appropriate to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate an attempt to corruptly obstruct justice by members of Congress who so obviously use their office to intimidate the deputy attorney general and to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
.. Their inexcusable acts include:
- The caper by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in which he scurried over to the White House to review classified documents and then tried to push the fake “unmasking” scandal;
- Nunes’s memo falsely stating that information about the Christopher Steele dossier’s origins was omitted from the Foreign Intelligence Security Court warrant application to conduct surveillance on suspected spy Carter Page;
- The outing of a confidential intelligence source;
- The badgering of Rosenstein for documents from an ongoing investigation and the bogus impeachment articles cooked up by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio);
- False accusations against the FBI (e.g. accusing FBI officials of aiding Hillary Clinton in the campaign) that were discredited by the inspector general’s report; and
- Refusal to obtain relevant documents (e.g. the blocked phone number that Donald Trump Jr. called in close proximity to the Russia meeting in June 2016).
.. Congressmen, Trump lawyers and White House aides conferring with intent to mislead investigators and the public, to disable the inquiry and/or to discredit law enforcement sounds an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Conversations or documents relating to that sort of conspiracy are in no way privileged.
.. Norman Eisen, Laurence Tribe and Caroline Frederickson wrote in February: “Endeavoring to stop an investigation, if done with corrupt intent, may constitute obstruction of justice. Plotting to assist such action may be conspiracy to obstruct justice. Normally, what is called ‘speech or debate immunity would provide a strong bulwark against any such liability for Mr. Nunes or his staff.” However, they argued, “Mr. Nunes and company may have ranged so far afield that those protections no longer apply. Under the clause, mere peripheral connection to legislative acts cannot serve as a fig leaf to shield criminal conduct.” They argued that if “a member or staff employee of the House Intelligence Committee engaged with the White House to stifle the special counsel inquiry, it would be difficult to see how such collaboration would be” protected by the speech or debate clause.
.. An investigation into Republican House members’ antics is critical if we want to hold them responsible for actions injurious to our criminal justice system. It is also necessary in order to uncover who if anyone they were colluding with on the White House side of the operation. Any White House official and/or lawyer — with or without the president’s knowledge — scheming to obstruct the investigation in concert with members of Congress needs to be investigated and held accountable.
.. Rather than simply play defense on behalf of Rosenstein and the Russian investigators, defenders of the rule of law need to go on offense, demanding Nunes, Meadows and Jordan come clean on their actions in support of a president trying to thwart a legitimate investigation. It all needs to come out.
For Plato/Socrates, the philosopher is the guy who breaks free of the cave’s shackles and sees the reality behind the shadows.
.. Consider the articles of impeachment filed against Rod Rosenstein this week. I am not disputing that there are serious people with serious complaints about Rosenstein. But this was not the work of serious people. I would think that reasonable people could agree that impeaching any government official is a serious thing. Impeaching this official in particular, given the stakes and the controversies associated with him, is a particularly serious affair.
.. Impeachment, moreover, is not an appropriate remedy for Rosenstein’s alleged transgression of insufficient transparency. He, after all, works for the president, who is ultimately responsible for the information the Justice Department gives to Congress and who can order Rosenstein to disclose more on threat of removal. Congress is overstepping its authority in micromanaging the executive branch by seeking to impeach an official for refusing to turn over information that the president has not ordered him to turn over. Congress appears to have only once used the impeachment tool against an executive-branch official other than the president — in 1876, when it impeached Secretary of War William Belknap after he resigned for accepting bribes and kickbacks in office.
If the impeachers were seriously outraged — truly, seriously, outraged — by the executive branch’s behavior, they might be moving to impeach the executive.
.. Or, at the very least, they would be imploring the president to order Rosenstein to hand over these materials or to fire Rosenstein for refusing to do so.
They’re not doing that. Why? Because they’re putting on a show. This impeachment effort is a prop in the passion play, a talking point for Hannity’s opening monologues and the president’s Twitter feed.
.. for Trump, when we buy things from abroad — and by we, I mean individual citizens and firms in a free country — we are literally being “robbed.” Jacob Sullum on the president’s Iowa speech yesterday:
“Our trade deficit ballooned to $817 billion,” Donald Trump said during a speech to steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, yesterday. “Think of that. We lost $817 billion a year over the last number of years in trade. In other words, if we didn’t trade, we’d save a hell of a lot of money.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the president exaggerated the size of the 2017 trade deficit by 48 percent. But that’s a mere quibble compared to his fundamental misunderstanding of what that number means, which in turn reflects a zero-sum view of economic exchange that does not bode well for the outcome of a tariff war supposedly aimed at promoting free trade.
.. Trump’s trade defenders offer a verbal Escher drawing in defense of Trump’s trade policies. “Tariffs are great!” they say. “But Trump doesn’t really believe in tariffs, he wants “free trade,’” they add as well.Well if tariffs are great, why favor free trade? Why favor free trade if tariffs would save us a hell of a lot of money?
.. And the economists who say “that’s not how any of this works”are reduced to the nitpickers who complain that the most implausible thing about the TV series 24 is that the traffic in L.A. would make the whole story impossible. The nitpickers are right — it’s just that no one wants to hear it.
.. charismatic personalities have replaced — or are replacing — traditional institutions as sources of information, morality, and politics. There’s no better example in the moment than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who strikes me as a kind of lame reimagining of a young Barack Obama with a woman in the lead. Cortez doesn’t know a lot about economics, beyond some handy buzz-phrases and shibboleths. She likes to brag about how she knows what the Gini coefficient is but thinks unemployment is low because people are working two jobs.
In its latest futile gesture, the House Freedom Caucus sets its sights on ousting the man overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation...their public relations assault is not actually about his refusing to turn over this or that document related to the Russia investigation. It’s not really even about the lawmakers’ loathing of the broader investigation, though certainly President Trump’s congressional lackeys — Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan most definitely included — are increasingly desperate to derail it... For Freedom Caucus leaders, this impeachment resolution is about something at once much broader and far pettier: the need to make a huge, disruptive, polarizing political stink just as members head home for the long hot August recess. Especially with a critical midterm election coming, it never hurts to have some extra well-marbled meat to throw the voters. And it is unlikely a coincidence that, less than 24 hours after filing, Mr. Jordan — who, lest anyone forget, is multiply accused of overlooking rampant sexual abuse while an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University — formally announced his candidacy for House speaker.Not to make Mr. Rosenstein feel any less special, but this is the fourth year in a row that Freedom Caucusers have pulled a summer-break stunt so nakedly self-serving that it would be comic if it weren’t so odious in its quest to erode public faith in government and in democratic institutions more broadly. Indeed, for all those wondering how the Republican Party reached the point where Donald Trump could swallow it whole with his furious everything-is-awful-and-everyone-is-out-to-get-you brand of demagogy, look no further than the nihilists in the Freedom Caucus... In 2015, Mr. Meadows became an overnight political celebrity when, on the day before break, he filed a motion aimed at overthrowing the House speaker, John Boehner. That effort eventually bore fruit... In 2016, Freedom Caucus members filed a pre-break motion to force a vote on the impeachment of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen. (Impeachment is all the rage with these guys.)And last summer, they filed a discharge petition demanding a vote on a repeal of Obamacare... it has only nine co-sponsors, and Republican leaders, including Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the oversight committee, have expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the effort... Mr. Meadows didn’t even attempt to file a “privileged motion,” as he and his colleagues did against Mr. Koskinen two years ago, which would have forced a vote before members decamped on Thursday... the issue won’t get taken up until lawmakers return from break in September, if then. (That’s the beauty of pre-recess antics: They cannot fail before members get to spend several weeks touting them back home.)
There is vanishingly little chance that House leadership will let this toxic nonsense advance — Speaker Paul Ryan already has publicly smacked down the effort — and
zero chance that the motion could amass anywhere close to the two-thirds support required for the Senate to actually remove Mr. Rosenstein.
.. This stunt is in fact so ridiculous, so unfounded, so poisonous to the Republic that Attorney General Jeff Sessions felt compelled not only to publicly defend his deputy, but also to suggest that the lawmakers involved find a better use of their time.
.. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired in January 2017 for refusing to defend President Trump’s travel ban, tweeted a warning about the long-term damage of “using the Department of Justice as a prop for political theater.”
.. It’s not that the Freedom Caucus members don’t recognize the damage they’re doing — or even that they don’t care. It is that delegitimizing government is at the heart of their movement.
.. Conflict and obstructionism have always been their purpose, fueled by their relentless message that
- government is always the problem, that
- all experts are idiots, that
- cultural and coastal elites hate Real Americans and that
- all of Washington is corrupt and broken beyond repair.
.. As has often been noted, Mr. Trump did not invent the apocalyptic message that he has used to dazzle the Republican base. He merely distilled it to its essence. But the base had been groomed for his arrival for years, in no small part by lawmakers like Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan, who have repeatedly proved eager to tear down democratic institutions in the service of their own political aims.
.. So while the Freedom Caucus’s pitiful effort to oust Mr. Rosenstein should not be taken seriously on practical grounds, it is a tragic reminder of the bleak path down which the Republican Party has been slouching in recent years. The rot was there long before Mr. Trump showed up to exploit it, and it is likely to remain long after he is gone.