“In scandals such as this, it is always members of the president’s party who have particular leverage, and therefore who have a particular responsibility, to hold the president accountable for his actions.”
So wrote noted Republican moralist Bill Bennett in his 1998 book, “The Death of Outrage.” Bennett went on to excoriate Democrats who were “troubled by the credible allegations of ethical and criminal wrongdoing” and who saw “the harm that is being inflicted on America” but failed to say so “forcefully, unambiguously, publicly.” “No Democrat went to the president of the United States and insisted, emphatically, that he do what is right, none insisted that he fully answer questions, stop stonewalling, and come out, immediately, with all of the facts, wherever they might lead,” he wrote. “This is shameful.” (I tip my fedora to the indefatigable researcher Windsor Mann for pointing out this passage.)
How much more shameful is it now that the members of the president’s party — Bennett’s party — will not come out “forcefully, unambiguously, publicly” to call out President Trump for his illegal and unethical conduct and insist that he comply with congressional attempts to unearth the facts. Bennett was writing when a Democratic president was accused of lying about sex. Today, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has documented beyond a shadow of a doubt presidential conduct that is both criminal and impeachable. More than 800 former federal prosecutors say Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice if he were not president.
Trump is committing further “high crimes and misdemeanors” by vowing not to comply with “all” House subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee has just voted to hold his attorney general, William P. Barr, in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. His treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, risks similar sanctions for refusing to provide Trump’s taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Yet no Republicans are speaking out to condemn Trump for his lawlessness or urge him to comply with congressional subpoenas. This stands in stark contrast to the way that Republicans rained rhetorical fire and fury on Democratic presidents who stonewalled Congress.
In a 2012 video unearthed by Republicans for the Rule of Law, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) excoriated then-Attorney General Eric Holder for not providing more documents to a House probe of a gun-running sting: “I think that it is outrageous that any attorney general — Republican or Democrat — refuses to comply with Congress’s constitutional right to hold them accountable and the Justice Department accountable. I would say that if that if this was a Republican just like I do now because it’s a Democrat. Not only that, I think this has gone on so long and the stonewalling by the attorney general has been so egregious, that I think he has to resign.” Needless to say, Rubio is not calling for Barr to resign. Indeed, he doesn’t have a censorious word to say about the Trump administration’s current stonewalling.
Rubio is joined in the hypocrisy hall of fame by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) who, as a House member in 1998, demanded that President Bill Clinton be impeached for, inter alia, refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas: “The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena was the day he was subject to impeachment, because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress and he became the judge and jury.” Today, by contrast, Graham shows no interest in eliciting any information from the Trump administration. “I’m not going to do any more. Enough already. It’s over,” Graham told reporters in explaining why he would not call Mueller to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proclaims “case closed” even though new evidence continues to emerge of Trump’s misconduct (including possible financial fraud).
The Republicans’ reluctance to investigate Trump is sometimes explained by pointing to their devotion to unlimited executive power — a GOP obsession ever since Watergate. But their past statements make clear that this is not the case. Republicans believe in presidential power only when the president is a Republican. When it’s a Democrat, they suddenly discover the importance of congressional oversight. There is no disinterested principle that could possibly explain or excuse Republican conduct. Their only principle is blind partisanship. We are in a “constitutional crisis,” as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says, and Republicans are siding with their party over the Constitution.
This is, as Bennett would say, shameful — except of course Bennett is one of the Republican hypocrites who refuse to call out a Republican president. After the Mueller report was released, Bennett appeared on Fox News to say that even if Trump’s aides had followed his orders to stop the Mueller investigation, “that wouldn’t be obstruction of justice, either. … The executive power rests with the president. He can do what he wants.”
Back in 1998, Bennett expressed his deep “deep disappointment” in the “silence of thoughtful Democrats.” Today he does not even have the decency to remain silent. By talking, he is removing all doubts about his insincerity, unseriousness and opportunism — and that of his fellow party members.