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Opinion Mitch McConnell tries to make Trump’s misconduct disappear

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master troll, whose limitless hypocrisy and bad faith are guaranteed to make his opponents want to tear their hair out. And now he has outdone himself:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a case Tuesday to move on from investigations of President Trump and his 2016 campaign, calling the matter “case closed” even as Democrats intensify their inquiries of Trump’s conduct.
McConnell (R-Ky.), who will face a reelection bid next year, argued that Democrats are continuing to re-litigate an election result that is now more than two years old — deriding it as a “Groundhog Day spectacle” — and insisted in a floor speech Tuesday morning that the matter is finished and that lawmakers should focus on legislation.
“Remember, Russia set out to sow discord, to create chaos in American politics and undermine confidence in our democracy,” McConnell said. “But on that front, given the left’s total fixation on delegitimizing the president — the president Americans chose and shooting any messenger who tells them inconvenient truths, I’m afraid the Russians hardly needed to lift a finger.”

McConnell isn’t actually conceding the main point about Russian interference: What Republicans love to leave out is that the effort to “sow discord” and “create chaos in American politics” was also about helping Trump get elected president.

But what really matters here is that McConnell, like the president and the rest of the party, is desperate to shut down any further investigation of the Russia scandal. Which is itself proof that they’re extremely nervous about what such an investigation might find. After all, it’s not as if McConnell has a bulging legislative agenda he needs to get to, and hearings in the House might somehow hamper it. In fact, he has no legislative agenda at all; just about all the Senate does these days is confirm President Trump’s judges.

If Republicans actually believed what they say about Russia, they’d have no problem with further investigations. If it were true that nobody around Trump did anything wrong (despite the multiple Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to crimes) and neither did Trump himself, investigations would be dull and fruitless. Nothing would prove the Republicans’ point more than a bunch of Democrats trying and failing to find something the president did wrong.

But that, of course, is not the real threat. The real threat is that an investigation would cast more light on Trump’s wrongdoing, particularly the copious efforts he took to obstruct the special counsel’s probe. More than 700 former federal prosecutors have now signed a letter stating, “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Some of them would surely be happy to offer testimony to explain.

And it’s particularly rich to hear McConnell argue that no more investigation of one of the most dramatic scandals in U.S. history is necessary, after he and his party spent eight years desperately trying and failing to create a damaging Obama administration scandal. McConnell claims that the special counsel’s (narrowly defined) investigation of the Russia scandal is all we need, when Republicans mounted no fewer than eight — count ‘em, eight — separate congressional investigations of Benghazi.

But when it comes to jaw-dropping gall, nothing else McConnell said approached this:

Maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened. Maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn’t have seemed so very tempting. Instead, the previous administration sent the Kremlin the signal they could get away with almost anything.

That’s right: Russia’s comprehensive campaign to help Trump get elected was … President Barack Obama’s fault. That would be absurd even if you didn’t know McConnell’s particular history on this issue. But his words are even more appalling because no one did more to hinder reaction to Russia’s attack on our election system than McConnell himself.

Let’s recall what happened in September 2016: The Obama administration gathered congressional leaders from both parties together to explain what Russia was doing. Here’s what happened next:

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.
And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

So a joint statement never happened. You can argue that it wouldn’t have made much difference, or that there was more the Obama administration could have done. But McConnell doesn’t care about that; it’s not like he’s advocating strong measures now to deter Russian involvement in the 2020 election.

He has one goal today, just as he did on that day in 2016: Protect Trump. That means fighting against anything resembling a full accounting, let alone accountability.

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