Greg Sargent of the Washington Post finds that House Republicans are now actively interfering with the Mueller probe in hope of slowing it down until after the midterms, if not giving Donald Trump cover for outright termination of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his boss, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.
One of the big political questions of the moment is this: Will GOP congressional leaders act to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation against President Trump’s threats to hamstring or kill it?
But in a way, this question, while important, doesn’t really get at the full story here, because its premise is that Republicans are mostly behaving passively toward the Mueller probe, clearing the way for Trump to act if he wishes. In reality, Republicans are, under cover of fake oversight, actively working to interfere in the investigation, on Trump’s behalf.
Here’s the latest on this front: The Post reports that House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte is planning to issue a subpoena for release of the memos that former FBI director James B. Comey has made of his private conversations with Trump, which have been turned over to Mueller.
Those conversations include the ones in which Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty and pressed him to drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but there is a lot more in those memos we haven’t heard about. They are probably important evidence in Mueller’s efforts to establish whether Trump obstructed justice.
Surprise! And you thought Trey Gowdy and Jason Chaffetz were assholes.
The Justice Department is already signaling reluctance to release these memos. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, has already told congressional Republicans that he wants more time to evaluate “the consequences” of giving them to Congress and worries about “publicizing them.”
Does anyone really believe Republicans are motivated by nothing but pure oversight impulses here? There are two other reasons they might want these memos. The first is to deliberately provoke Rosenstein into declining to provide them all — which could create a pretext to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even for Trump to fire him.
“The Deputy Attorney General should be aware that no matter what he gives to these members of Congress, it will never be enough,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me this morning. “The point is to create a conflict with the Justice Department that would give the president grounds to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein. They don’t care what damage they do to our institutions to protect the president.” Separately, Schiff is pushing a new bill that would create disincentives for Trump to pardon people involved in the investigation.
The second reason for getting these memos — and let’s not pretend this isn’t perfectly plausible — would be to selectively leak from them, to mislead the public by, say, creating phony impressions of misconduct on Comey’s part that could provide more fodder for Trump and his allies to delegitimize the investigation, possibly manufacturing further pretext to hamstring or kill it. Let me remind you that Republicans already tried a similar caper with the bad-faith-saturated Nunes memo.
One of both of these will happen as a result of these subpoenas, count on it. Not only did this happen with the Nunes memo, it happened with the texts of FBI agent Peter Strzok, who the Republicans have been flogging for months as proof of bias in the FBI. It has worked, too: fewer than 20% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Robert Mueller and 55% believe Mueller's investigation is "unfair" to Donald Trump.
And indeed, earlier today, Rosenstein caved on these memos and produced them for the subpoena. He's buying time and playing along, but of course now Goodlatte knows he can subpoena anything and everything that Mueller's team may have.
This will happen again, and soon. And eventually Goodlatte will find something he can use.
The ground is being laid to fire Rosenstein and Mueller ahead of midterm elections. We need to be paying attention...and more importantly, we need to be voting.