Just after last fall’s midterm elections, congressional Republicans fumed at their historic underperformance and seemed ready to dump Trump.
“Former President Trump is facing waves of blame after key Republican candidates lost in midterms,” Axios’ Mike Allen led his influential daily newsletter. “The list of explanations for GOP underperformance is long, but at the top is DONALD TRUMP,” Politico Playbook declared. A Trump advisor told ABC News, “This is a sinking ship.”
A few months after they designated the former president their greatest political liability, one might expect Republicans to take this week’s news of his pending criminal indictment as the offramp they yearned for.
But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded as devoted as ever to the man who nearly cost him the majority. Speaking at a House GOP retreat, the California Republican declared Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s investigation “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical D.A. who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump.”
McCarthy then directed congressional committees to launch an investigation of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Committee Chairs Jim Jordan, James Comer and Bryan Steil promptly sent a letter to Bragg demanding that he appear before them and turn over all documents and testimony related to the investigation.
So instead of abandoning Trump — as Republicans in Washington have been privately claiming they want to do for quite some time — they’re trying to use the reins of power to obstruct an ongoing investigation and shield the former president from prosecution.
Anyone who thinks Republicans really have any desire to “move on” from Trump should abandon this fantasy. At this point, Republicans such as McCarthy aren’t hostages to the former president; they’re his volunteers and aspiring accomplices.
The United States Congress has no legitimate reason to meddle in an active investigation by a New York prosecutor. It’s a flagrant abuse of power that establishes a dangerous precedent threatening to upend the justice system. The suggestion is that it’s the proper province of Congress to become directly involved in independent judicial proceedings to the point of acquiring evidence and testimony and entering it into the public record before the case is even tried.
Imagine the uproar from the GOP if a Democratic-controlled congressional committee launched a similar investigation into a Republican prosecutor’s case against a prominent Democrat. They would lose their minds.
The message McCarthy’s Republicans are sending is very clear: If you investigate crimes that may have been committed by prominent Republicans, we will investigate you. The GOP might as well declare an amnesty for fraud and other white-collar crimes. They want law enforcement agencies to use their resources to scrutinize communities of color, not those who are rich, powerful or white. The Republican apparatus has dedicated itself to aiding and abetting an entire class of criminals.
If you commit sedition, as the Jan. 6 insurrectionists did, they will declare you a political prisoner and organize a congressional visit to your jail cell. If you grift supporters out of over a million dollars, as former Trump advisor Steve Bannon allegedly did, you will be pardoned. If you receive a mysterious $2-billion “investment” from a foreign power, as Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner did, any investigation will be quietly dropped. If you invent your entire life story, as New York Rep. George Santos did, you can still be a member of a Congress. If you turned a blind eye to sexual abuse of college athletes you coached, as Rep. Jordan reportedly did, you might yet chair the House Judiciary Committee. And if you were accused of abusing your college girlfriend, as Rep. Comer was, you could nevertheless lead the House Oversight Committee.
Evidently, if you are a Republican seeking high office, criminal conduct is no disqualification; it’s verging on a prerequisite. Turning the House of Representatives into a glorified conspiracy to obstruct justice is the latest manifestation of the party’s enthusiastic embrace of organized crime.
Kurt Bardella is a contributing writer to Opinion, a Democratic strategist and a former senior advisor to Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. @KurtBardella