This week's story line out of Washington is less grim but still of great concern. Despite daily reminders that President Trump holds democratic traditions in deep contempt, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and his Republican caucus are allowing themselves to become co-conspirators in the president's push to compromise U.S. constitutional norms. While no one expects the GOP to take grisly cues from Shakespeare, is it too much to ask that Ryan place grave national security concerns from the Justice Department ahead of his political peonage to Trump?
Has Ryan noticed that the president is executing an erratic but effective plot to undermine the independence of America's law enforcement agencies?
Do Capitol Hill Republicans even care that Trump has taken on the nasty habit of demanding loyalty oaths from FBI agents and Justice Department officials who happen to be investigating his White House?
Is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even slightly concerned that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, like former director James B. Comey before him, was driven from his job after being administered — and apparently failing — a loyalty test?
Whom did you vote for? That's what the petulant president asked McCabe. The FBI officer told Trump he didn't vote. But even asking the question was highly inappropriate. Retiring House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told CNN that McCabe should not have even answered. "It's nobody's business," Gowdy said.
This week we learned that the commander in chief's loyalty demands even extended to the man overseeing Robert S. Mueller III's investigation. At a White House meeting in December, Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein whether he was on the president's "team." Rosenstein replied that "we're all on your team, Mr. President" — instead of rightly telling the president that his only loyalty is to the U.S. Constitution. But there is no doubt Trump would have considered that the wrong answer. For this president, loyalty to Constitution and country is considered less important than loyalty to himself.
In November, Trump told a radio host that the most frustrating thing about being president was his inability to influence FBI and Justice Department investigations. This week, the president breezed past those constitutional boundaries and told aides that he was working to undermine Mueller's Justice Department probe and damage the FBI's reputation. He would compromise America's premier law enforcement agencies by working with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to release a misleading memo that both the Justice Department and FBI condemned as inaccurate. Doing so would be "extraordinarily reckless," wrote Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd. But Trump pressed for the memo's release regardless of those dire warnings, and Ryan and his corrupted caucus cheered him on.
The president's enablers must believe that it is their unfortunate fate to blindly follow him. But they are misreading the stars, and they are underestimating themselves. No one expects grand Shakespearean gestures from this Republican Party. All that is required is the courage to push back against this president's most dangerous moves. Republicans took an oath to the Constitution and their country. They must be reminded that their most enduring loyalties lie there and not with Donald Trump.
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