The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The White House’s latest Mueller absurdity is shocking. Even for Trump.

The U.S. isn't a lawless country, so why are sitting presidents immune to prosecution? (Video: Kate Woodsome, Breanna Muir, Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

It is a useful exercise at times to step back and state clearly what President Trump and the White House are really arguing. We waste so much time chasing little lies that we lose sight of how audaciously, monumentally absurd and profoundly saturated in bad faith their big arguments really are.

Case in point: the current oversight wars, which just escalated once again.

The position of Trump and the White House is this: It is not a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to further flesh out special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings with the goal of fortifying our election security against future outside attacks on our political system.

Stripped down to its essence, this is the unvarnished White House position.

The oversight battles just took a new turn. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has sent a detailed new letter to the White House, protesting its blanket resistance to any and all House oversight efforts.

The White House had previously argued that the Judiciary Committee’s oversight demands — including its request for the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence — are fundamentally illegitimate, because they lack a legitimate legislative purpose.

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Its case is that, because Democrats are merely going over the same ground that Mueller did, they are retrying a criminal matter, which isn’t the House’s role. It’s a ridiculous argument.

But nonetheless, Nadler’s new letter in response is important, because it spells out in more detail than I’ve seen elsewhere the legislative purpose behind Democratic oversight demands.

Nadler writes that the Mueller report “found that Russia interfered in our elections,” and that this demonstrates our vulnerability to “foreign disinformation campaigns” and “demonstrates a compelling need to strengthen laws to improve election security.”

Nadler continues that “with the 2020 elections approaching, the Committee requires a more complete understanding of Russia’s influence and hacking operations.” Nadler adds this about the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm that spread discord in the United States in 2016:

Sections of the Mueller Report describing the structure and actions taken by the Internet Research Agency are heavily redacted. Sections … describing the hacking activities undertaken by Russian intelligence services likewise contain significant redactions, which impair the ability of the Committee to gain a complete understanding of Russia’s actions. Without this information, the Committee is unable to fully perform its responsibility to protect the impending 2020 elections — and thus our republic itself — from a recurrence of foreign interference.

Nadler also outlines the need for an independent congressional investigation of Trump’s obstruction of justice and abuses of power, which is obviously within Congress’s authority. But I want to focus here on the Russian angle.

The White House position on Nadler’s demand for additional information to better defend our political system from outside attack is that this isn’t a legitimate legislative purpose. We know this, because when Nadler decided to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt for withholding the unredacted Mueller report, he outlined this same purpose, albeit more briefly.

And the White House responded that Nadler’s demand had no legitimate purpose, inevitably meaning that this one is not legitimate, leading to Nadler’s latest volley. The White House should be pressed to explain how defending our political system isn’t a legitimate legislative purpose.

Trump officials say Russia is interfering. Trump shrugs.

What makes this more galling is that members of Trump’s own administration say that Russian interference efforts are an ongoing threat. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently declared those efforts represent a “significant counterintelligence threat,” adding that he views Russia’s 2018 efforts as a “dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020.”

Yet Trump World’s position continues to be: No biggie. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale recently claimed that Russia “never” helped Trump in 2016. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner shrugged that this Russian help amounted to “a couple of Facebook ads.”

Trump World’s position is that the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump but you should ignore all its findings on the Russian sabotage effort itself, because it basically never happened. That is, ignore at least the first 50 pages, which concluded that Russian interference was “sweeping and systematic,” and included massive cybertheft directed at Democrats and disinformation warfare to socially divide the country.

Barr is more or less in on this, too. He just had an interview with Fox News and validated Trump’s theory that the early Russia investigation might have been about hobbling Trump. Barr is carrying out Trump’s lawless command to investigate the investigators, implicitly downgrading the legitimacy of an investigation into a foreign attack on our political system.

Democrats want to secure elections. Republicans don’t.

In the background, many congressional Republicans are all in with Trump World on this, too. Senate Democrats are pushing various bills to secure our elections against more foreign interference. They are circulating a video of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asking Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) if those bills will ever get to the floor.

The answer? No, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has no interest. That’s the same McConnell who refused to show a united front against the Russian attack in 2016.

Trump actively and extensively encouraged the Russian attack, hyping WikiLeaks’ findings countless times. His campaign eagerly sought to coordinate with that attack. Trump went to enormous lengths to impede the investigation into it. He and his advisers repeatedly lied to cover up all the dimensions of that broader story.

Now, Trump World’s position is basically that the attack never happened, and the White House position is that further fleshing out Mueller’s conclusions about it, to do something about the next one, isn’t a legitimate legislative purpose — even though Trump’s own intelligence officials are waving red flags about it.

How can this really be the position of the White House and the president of the United States?

Read more:

Greg Sargent: The White House takes another step toward putting Trump beyond accountability

Jennifer Rubin: Nadler to White House: You must be joking

Walter Dellinger: Democrats’ obsession with redaction is obscuring the obvious: Trump committed high crimes

Jennifer Rubin: Why the Michael Flynn revelations are so important

Greg Sargent: Trump’s campaign manager says Russia ‘never’ helped. That lie will please Trump.