Two truisms in war and politics are that the best defense is a good offense and a red herring can throw adversaries off your trail. President Trump is no Sun Tzu, but he doesn’t need to be to apply those bromides, with help from an army of willing soldiers in his misinformation mission. Congressional Republicans have hitched their sorry horses to Trump’s runaway wagon, ready to muddy the waters, no matter the damage to democratic norms.
“One of the revelations of the last year has been not how terrible a president Trump would be — because I think a lot of people were not surprised by that — but how unwilling Republicans would be to stand up to a flawed president and defend our system of checks and balances and the decency and norms we’ve come to expect from any president,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.
Far from standing up to Trump, Republicans have rolled over.
The latest scandal — that Trump reportedly tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, thwarted only when the White House counsel last June threatened to quit — comes as a shock to absolutely no one. That was the month Trump’s new lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said Trump had every right to fire FBI Director James Comey and Mueller too. On June 12, Trump buddy Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, said Trump was “considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.” The next day, the White House spokeswoman said Trump had “the right” to fire Mueller, and The New York Times reported the president considered it. A day later, the president denounced on Twitter Mueller’s nascent probe as “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”
Methodical Mueller managed to amass enough evidence in less than six months to indict four Trump officials, including his former campaign chairman and his former national security adviser, who admitted lying to the FBI. So it’s frankly not breaking news that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by trying to fire Mueller to stop the probe into obstruction of justice over the president’s firing of Comey — which, by the president’s own admission, was intended to stop a probe into “this Russia thing.’’ Former US Representative and conservative radio host Joe Walsh put it bluntly: “For a guy who says he didn’t do anything wrong, why does he try to fire everyone who’s investigating him?”
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, who was forced to recuse himself from his own Russia probe after falsely claiming he took evidence of an “unmasking” conspiracy by the Obama administration to the Trump White House — only to be exposed as having been given that information by the White House and told to spread it around — is trying again to carry the president’s polluted water.
With the help of opinion-makers at Fox News, Nunes is pressing to declassify a memo by his aides asserting an anti-Trump bias at the FBI, which sought surveillance of a Trump campaign aide suspected of being a Russian agent. It’s unclear why Republicans think they have a smoking gun; the memo also allegedly indicates Trump’s deputy attorney general continued surveillance of the former Trump aide. Nunes hasn’t read the intelligence on which his memo is based, according to the Justice Department, and has refused to share the memo with Justice, FBI, or the Republican Senate Intelligence chairman. The Pink Panther-level mishandling would be comical if it weren’t real.
Nunes and his allies have apparently decided that protecting Trump, whatever the cost, is the quickest way to promote a shared agenda of loosened regulations, tightened immigration, tax cuts for corporations, and more.
“They have created now an animal they can’t contain,” Schiff said ruefully. “I don’t know where this is going to end.”
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @Indira_L.