By day’s end on Monday, a few prominent Republicans gingerly stepped forward to support special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. You had to squint to see it, but they issued what passes for a warning to the president.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in a written statement said: “The Judiciary Committee is continuing its work to ensure that the Justice Department and FBI are functioning free from inappropriate influence, consistent with our constitutional oversight responsibility.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), meanwhile, said through a spokesman, “Sen. Hatch believes that it’s in the best interest for all parties involved to allow Bob Mueller to conduct a full and vigorous investigation. There will be procedural milestones, like today’s announcement, along the way, but that doesn’t change the basic equation that the special counsel needs the time and support necessary to get to the bottom of things.” And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) added in his own statement: “I fully support Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that the system of checks and balances, the system of separation of powers in the federal government, is upheld.”
They might have been too subtle for the president, but surely Trump’s lawyers will receive the message: Don’t think about pardoning anyone or firing Mueller.
While the legal investigation plays out, members of Congress should not lose track of an equally, if not more, compelling issue — namely, Trump’s inability to uphold his oath. The jaw-dropping evidence of manifest recklessness, incompetence and contempt for the rule of law cannot be ignored.
Trump hired as a campaign chairman someone who had known ties to dictators and Moscow’s stooge in Ukraine, fired him only after he became a nuisance in the media, and then kept aide Rick Gates in his camp. (Gates acted as a bridge on behalf of the campaign to the Republican National Committee, and later served on the inauguration committee and helped fund-raise for a new pro-Trump lobbying outfit.) Consider the cosmically rotten management and judgment in hiring two men who worked for foreign tyrants and keeping Gates on even after evidence surfaced that the FBI was investigating Manafort, who worked hand in hand with the Trump team.
A similarly negligent attitude toward foreign connections popped up again when Michael T. Flynn was hired as national security adviser, despite reported lobbying on behalf of Turkey. It is unclear precisely what the transition team knew about Flynn, but again we see the absence of any competent vetting and process to keep out of office those who would harm our national security and embroil the administration in nonstop controversy.
Trump’s inability and unwillingness to attend to American national security continues to this day. Neither he nor his attorney general has apparently devoted any time or attention to securing our electoral system against Russian interference. Trump continues to slough off incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference. That interference was more widespread than initially thought.
Facebook plans to tell lawmakers on Tuesday that 126 million of its users may have seen content produced and circulated by Russian operatives, many times more than what the company previously disclosed about the reach of the disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.
Google on Monday acknowledged for the first time that its platforms were also compromised, revealing that Russian trolls uploaded over a thousand videos to YouTube on 18 different channels.
Trump chooses to ignore this and other evidence that led our intelligence community to conclude Russia had meddled in the election. In refusing to address the issue because his own ego is at stake (and the country’s perception of his legitimacy), he thereby puts out the welcome mat for further efforts to meddle in our democracy. He cannot bring himself to recognize what Russia did for him, so he cannot take seriously his obligation to defend against future Russian attacks on our democracy.
Failing to vet high-ranking officials and disinclination to act to defend America’s electoral democracy are not illegal. Nor is it illegal to deride the First Amendment, equate neo-Nazis with protesters, lie hundreds if not thousands of times or berate one’s attorney general for recusing himself as required by law. It’s not illegal to refuse to master policy basics. Nevertheless, when we consider all that, plus his firing of FBI director James B. Comey, his alleged effort to interfere with the Flynn investigation, his alleged attempt to chase the Justice Department off the prosecution of Joe Arpaio, his lying about the existence of tapes of Comey, his self-enrichment and his conflicts of interest (including receipt of foreign emoluments), the stark portrait emerges of someone unwilling or unable to act in the interests and defense of the Constitution. Whenever the choice is between his own self-interest and the country, the former prevails. The president lacks the ability to sublimate his own interests, and thereby is unable to uphold the oath that requires he put the country first.
When and if Congress ever gets around to considering impeachment, all of this is relevant to the political consideration of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” And even if all that does not warrant Trump’s removal, it must require much greater congressional oversight (e.g. mandatory disclosure of his tax returns, ending nepotism, required liquidation of his businesses). To the extent that Republicans aren’t willing to do even that, they make the case for voting the whole lot of them out of office.