Back in December 2015, the U.S. presidential election was just heating up and a bearded Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was laying out his vision as the new speaker of the House. There were a lot of things on Ryan's wish list, but by far the thing he wanted most was a Republican president.
“We are not going to solve all the country’s problems next year,” Ryan said. “We need a new president. It’s just that simple.”
It's since proved to be anything but simple.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the FBI's investigation into possible coordination between President Trump and Russia has found its way into the White House. A senior White House adviser close to the president is under scrutiny by the FBI.
Oh, the irony for Ryan.
After a whole lot of heartache that was the 2016 campaign, Ryan got his wish: The electoral college handed a win to a Republican president who was behind in the polls, and voters let Republicans keep their majorities in Congress.
Trump maybe wasn't Ryan's dream partner, but at least he checked two of Ryan's most important boxes: He was president, and he was a Republican.
Since then, things haven't been smooth. “Well, yeah, it's always nice to have less drama,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. But the benefits of having a Republican who will sign into law a rollback of Obamacare and tax-reform legislation Ryan's been dreaming of since he was in college far outweigh the headaches of a president stumbling and tweeting into near-daily controversies.
Now, the situation has drastically changed. And so could Ryan and every other Republican's calculations about whether standing by the Republican president they so badly wanted is worth it.
After a week of stunning news about Trump's behavior with Russian diplomats and his own FBI director, this is perhaps the most stunning.
The Post's Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report that the FBI's focus on a senior Trump adviser is the result of months of secret investigations that will soon become more public, with a grand jury and subpoenas. The FBI is investigating whether and to what extent Trump associates worked with Russia to hack into Democrats' emails during the presidential election. And investigators clearly feel they have a strong enough case to devote some of their resources to looking into the highest ranks of the White House. That's a big deal.
And it means for the second day this week, the Trump administration has completely undermined everything Republicans have been saying to date about this Russia investigation.
Yes, both Congress and the FBI are looking into whether Trump associates helped Russia help Trump win the election. Yes, it was always a possibility this could go to the top. “I think Putin pays ... Trump,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said to Ryan and other GOP colleagues last year, a month before Republicans officially nominated Trump. (McCarthy says that was a joke, and no investigation has concluded whether or if Trump's campaign worked with Russia.)
But throughout this whole ordeal, Republican leaders in Congress have brushed aside calls for a more independent investigation. Implicit in their messaging: It's not that serious.
Now, things are looking serious. We have a special counsel, former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, with wide latitude to investigate whatever he wants under the umbrella of Trump associates and Russia. And the FBI's probe, which is climbing higher and higher in the Trump administration, could break out in the open.
For Republicans in Congress, this is all terrible news. Every escalation into Trump-Russia investigations makes it that much more difficult for them to a) keep their credibility intact for insisting none of this was necessary and b) stand by the president they so badly wanted.
When Republicans' new House speaker wished on that December day for a Republican president, it's fair to say this is not what he was wishing for.