“Lock her up, that’s right!” said Michael Flynn in his speech at the Republican convention, leading the crowd in a cheer that would become to Trump rallies what “Freebird” is to Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts. “We’re saying that because, if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.” Flynn is not actually in jail today, though he did plead guilty to a felony.
The point is, they would have been equally mad had it been a Republican. And once they took office, they’d get right to reforming the federal government’s information protocols to make sure nothing like that could ever happen again. Right?
Of course not. We could write books about the debacle that was press coverage of the Clinton email issue; I would just note that a year ago we learned that many of President Trump’s highest-ranking advisers were using private email for government business, and not only were there not a thousand front-page stories about it, almost no one seemed to care at all. But the latest news about information security in the Trump White House is truly mind-boggling:
When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them. […]Administration officials said Mr. Trump’s longtime paranoia about surveillance — well before coming to the White House he believed that his phone conversations were often being recorded — gave them some comfort that he was not disclosing classified information on the calls. They said they had further confidence he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities.
Yes, that’s right: The president’s calls are being listened to by Chinese and Russian intelligence, but White House officials say it’s no big deal because he’s so ignorant that he doesn’t have any secrets to reveal. For the record, Trump called it “a long and boring article on my cellphone usage that is so incorrect I do not have time here to correct it.”
What might be most remarkable about this story is that it isn’t as though we’re dealing with some technical vulnerability or system failure; the reason Trump allows his calls to be listened to by adversaries is that often “he does not want a call going through the White House switchboard and logged for senior aides to see.” It’s as though he were a teenager complaining that his parents are always sticking their nose in his business, except in this case the teenager is the most powerful person on Earth.
I realize that it’s too much to ask for Republicans to work themselves up into paroxysms of rage over this the way they did over Clinton’s email, for the simple reason that information security isn’t something they ever cared much about, so naturally they stopped pretending to care once the 2016 election was over. But you’d think that at the very least they’d muster up some mild disapproval of the fact that the president is allowing foreign governments to listen to his conversations. Can you imagine what they would have said if President Barack Obama had done this?
But no. No Republican members of Congress are calling for an investigation, no conservative pundits are shaking their fist at the cameras and saying this is a national crisis, and there will be no round-the-clock denunciations of the president on Fox News. (One National Review writer did note that “If Trump was a Dem, Fox might try to bend the space/time continuum to put Hannity on for 25 hours a day to chase the story.”)
You could call it “hypocrisy,” but that word doesn’t quite cover it. It’s become so expected that we’ll drop it and move on by tomorrow; all Republicans will have to do is avoid the cameras for a few hours so that they don’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions, and then they can go back to saying how mad they are that Brett Kavanaugh had to answer some uncomfortable questions before getting his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
So what should our response be to this kind of story? Obviously, the most important thing is that the problem gets fixed. If Trump were capable of embarrassment, I’d say that he might be embarrassed into using only secured phones. But since he isn’t, and White House aides seem incapable of persuading him to do so, the only remaining means to encourage him to change his practices would be some action by Congress, like an oversight hearing or two.
Oversight, however, is something this Congress no longer bothers with. Despite the deluge of Trump administration scandals, they’re not bothering; if you look at the October calendar of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, you’ll find it’s completely blank.
I’m not saying that Trump’s appalling phone security practices require a thousand hearings to address. But maybe … one? Would that be too many?
We might disagree on what the appropriate level of congressional action is to respond to any particular scandal or controversy involving the administration. But in almost every case, we should be able to say that the right number of investigations is, let’s say, more than zero and fewer than seven. That is to say, it’s more than the number of investigations Republicans have mounted on almost every Trump scandal (zero) and fewer than the number they mounted on Benghazi (seven). Would that be too much to ask?