(Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Opinion writer

For nearly two years, certain House Republicans have perverted and weaponized the oversight process, turning it into a 24/7 harassment campaign directed at a legitimate law enforcement investigation that has been trying to flesh out the full story of a foreign power’s efforts to sabotage our democracy.

Usually, Republicans carrying out this effort have tried to portray it as nothing more than an effort to bring much-needed congressional oversight to a “deep state” run amok. It isn’t every day that one of those Republicans openly admits to the obvious: that this campaign actively helped the president.

But GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of Trump’s most aggressive bodyguards against accountability on Capitol Hill, has now admitted to this — unabashedly.

The New York Times has a blockbuster new investigation detailing some of the hidden and extraordinary lengths that Trump has gone to in his effort to undermine special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. As the Times puts it, the new details reveal “an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement” than had been previously known, one in which Trump “attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history.”

Some of the revelations make it clearer than ever that, broadly speaking, Trump views law enforcement as little more than an instrument of his political will. For instance, Trump tried to get a U.S. attorney who is also one of his allies to oversee the investigation into his role in directing “hush money” payments during the campaign. Meanwhile, his handpicked choice for acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, privately described his role at the Justice Department as being willing to “jump on a grenade” for the president.

Perhaps the most interesting revelations in the Times investigation concern the degree to which Republicans actively worked to shield Trump from the Mueller inquiry. The piece reports that Reps. Gaetz and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) resolved early on to attack the Mueller probe, which we saw unfold in episodes such as the absurd effort to get a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton and the constant, buffoonish quest to prove that the Mueller probe is illegitimate.

We already knew, of course, that Trump was actively encouraging these efforts through his constant public statements. But the Times adds that behind the scenes, Trump’s direction of this effort was even more aggressive than we knew:

The president cheered the lawmakers on Twitter, in interviews and in private, urging Mr. Gaetz on Air Force One in December 2017 and in subsequent phone calls to keep up the House Republicans’ oversight work. He was hoping for fair treatment from Mr. Mueller, Mr. Trump told Mr. Gaetz in one of the calls just after the congressman appeared on Fox News, but that did not preclude him from encouraging his allies’ scrutiny of the investigation.

As the Times reports, this campaign was so nakedly cynical and depraved that even some Republicans condemned it. But here’s what Gaetz himself has to say in his defense:

Mr. Gaetz makes no apologies.

“Do I think it’s right that our work in the Congress has aided in the president’s defense?” he asked, before answering his own question.

“Yeah, I think it is right.”

You’re not supposed to admit to that, Congressman. This was merely supposed to be an exercise of congressional oversight designed to rein in supposedly out-of-control intelligence agencies. It wasn’t supposed to be about aiding the president’s legal defense.

Of course, in one sense, this demonstrates the functional beauty of the circular logic animating the up-is-down alt-narrative that Trump’s allies in Congress have created. The Times reports with a straight face that Gaetz and Jordan really believe that Trump is the supreme victim of an investigation that is “deeply unfair and politically biased.” Once that has been established, then it’s only a very small step to claiming that any effort to derail the investigation, including one that is actively designed to shield its target from scrutiny — Trump — is morally correct.

But let’s remember that again and again, these Trump allies have promised new revelations that would supposedly unmask the Mueller probe as corrupt and illegitimate, and again and again, from the ill-fated Devin Nunes memo to the released FBI applications to wiretap a former Trump adviser, these supposed bombshells have blown up in their own hapless faces.

And let’s also remember that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, forthrightly admitted before the 2018 elections that it was imperative to maintain a GOP House majority, in order to protect Trump from ongoing investigations — that is, from accountability.

Nunes had the good sense to express this view of the real role of GOP congressional oversight behind closed doors. Gaetz has now copped to it in public.

Read more:

Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman: The Nunes memo is out. It’s a joke and a sham.

Catherine Rampell: Trump isn’t to blame. His entire party is.

Greg Sargent: As Trump’s latest lies implode, one party tries to smuggle out the truth

Catherine Rampell: Is the GOP the law and order party? Not so much.

Greg Sargent: In leaked audio, Devin Nunes makes strong case for Democratic Congress