Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) walks with Reps. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) and Chris Stewart (R-Utah). (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

 

This post has been updated.

It has been difficult watching Republican politicians drive up the national debt since George W. Bush became president in 2001. But it has been even tougher taking in the spectacle of Trump apologists on Capitol Hill debasing themselves daily in defense of an indefensible president.

These supposedly law-and-order Republicans have declared war on the premier law-enforcement agency in the United States. But to be fair, President Trump’s Republican enablers are not trying to destroy the entire FBI — just those charged with investigating Trump. And the tales they are spinning are so spectacular that even a fool should find them hard to believe. But that seems to be what the Grand Old Party takes us for.

There was a time when the chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would spend his days working with the FBI on stopping the next terrorist attack on the United States. But in Trump’s Washington, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) uses his chairmanship to concoct conspiracy theories in a desperate attempt to prove “corruption of the highest levels of the FBI.” Last month, Johnson told told Fox News that he had evidence of a “secret society” within the FBI where agents would hold “secret meetings off-site” to plot the president’s demise. Johnson, a poor man’s Joe McCarthy, saw his Harry-Potter-secret-society tale blown to bits as quickly as Harry’s wand turned Voldemort to dust. In the end, the FBI’s coup d’texts were nothing more than a Vladimir Putin gag gift.

Most McCarthy wannabes would have dusted themselves off and waited for the laughter to die down before hatching another unhinged theory. But not Wisconsin’s senior senator. On Wednesday, Johnson released FBI text messages from September 2016 and boldly declared that they raised troubling questions about “the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement” in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Johnson’s conspiracy of the week collapsed in a matter of hours when the Wall Street Journal’s Del Quentin Wilber reported that the texts referred to Russians interfering with U.S. elections. Wilber also noted that the Clinton investigation was effectively shut down a month before those messages were sent — but came three days before Obama would confront Putin over the growing election scandal.

In saner times, Johnson would be wearing Capitol Hill’s biggest dunce cap. But that hat still fits most snugly on the crown of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.

The Nunes memo contains a small but legitimate question about how the FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page was obtained, says Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus. But what's really interesting about the memo is how it'll be used. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Like Johnson, Nunes has sullied the reputation of a committee once vital to the protection of U.S. national security. But since Trump’s inauguration, the California Republican has used his platform as chairman to concoct phony controversies accusing Obama of tapping phone lines in Trump Tower and alleging that FISA judges have been duped by deceitful FBI agents. The Obama “unmasking” story proved to be just as fraudulent as the chairman’s FISA folly, which was debunked by Nunes himself when he admitted that the secret court had been given information on the Steele dossier that Republicans claimed was omitted. Nunes’s further suggestion that a FISA court judge could be easily duped into approving surveillance warrants on an American citizen suggests the chairman is either ignorant of the FISA process or is lying. This being Washington, one would assume the latter. But with Nunes it’s anyone’s guess.

What is now beyond debate, however, is how far Republican leaders will go to defend a president most of them once despised. It is not enough that they are in the process of passing a spending bill (with Democrats, in this case) that will throw the United States even deeper in debt. They seem determined to bankrupt their own party’s soul.