Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) made waves Sunday by telling President Trump's lawyer that if his client is innocent, he should “act like it.” But focusing on that three-word phrase undersells the very important point Gowdy was making — and the importance of the messenger himself.
Gowdy, after all, is the guy who led the House's Benghazi investigation, which, like Robert S. Mueller III's investigation, was frequently accused of overreaching and even being superfluous. (In this case, the Democrats lodged the accusation that the investigation was a witch hunt; in Mueller's, it's Trump and his staunchest supporters.) Perhaps this is just Gowdy putting on his “former federal prosecutor” hat; maybe a man who grew frustrated with accusations of political bias in his own investigation sees the same thing happening again and wants it to stop. But the fact that the person who was viewed by some as leading a highly partisan investigation of Hillary Clinton is now perhaps the most vocal attempted voice of reason within the GOP about the Mueller probe shouldn't escape notice.
Nor should the rest of his comments Sunday. Here's what he told Fox News's Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: Congressman, I wanted [to start] again by getting your reaction to President Trump's lawyer calling for Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to end the Mueller investigation. Do you support that?
GOWDY: I don't, and I think that [the] president's attorney frankly does him a disservice when he says that and when he frames the investigation that way. Chris, if you look at the jurisdiction for Robert Mueller, first and foremost, what did Russia do to this country in 2016? That is supremely important, and it has nothing to do with collusion. So, to suggest that Mueller should shut down and all that he is looking at is collusion, if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.
And that is really the central problem with calling for the investigation to be shuttered. It's not just a collusion investigation, no matter how much Trump has attempted to bring everything back to “no collusion.” It has already led to charges against Russians who allegedly operated a troll farm during and after the 2016 election, and it has already led to five guilty pleas, including three by former Trump aides. It is about possible collusion, yes, but there are increasing signs that it's more focused on potential obstruction of justice — in addition to actions like the troll farm.
But Trump lawyer John Dowd's comments Saturday didn't seem to allow for any delineation between the investigation writ large and the collusion aspect. “I pray that Acting Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by [Andrew] McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said.
That quote contains a number of highly questionable assertions (perhaps most glaringly the idea that the investigation was “based upon” the Steele dossier; it started months earlier, as even House Republicans have acknowledged). But the quote's fatal flaw is that it pretends the investigation is only about collusion. And in that way, it joins a number of strained arguments seeking to undermine the probe that simply aren't made in good faith. From the Peter Strzok texts to the Devin Nunes memo to this, there are gaping logical holes in the cases Trump's defenders are putting forward.
Is it possible that the Mueller probe is tainted in some way? In the sense that anything is possible, yes. But the fact that Trump's legal team needs to rely upon this kind of misdirection speaks to the weakness of its hand right now. And Gowdy, to his credit, decided he would be the Republican to call that out on Sunday.