The rule of law in America is currently dangling by a thread. Yet it seems that only one Senate Republican believes the upper chamber is there to do anything more than conduct performative acts of governance—even when the president of the United States has fired his chief investigator.
With the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, every Senate Republican asked shrugged off the fact that Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr ousted the man who has been overseeing several investigations into Trump’s dealings and inner circle.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn seemed annoyed by questions about the ouster of top prosecutor Geoffrey Berman. “Everything that happens around here creates a tempest in a teapot,” Cornyn told CNN when asked about Berman. (Gee, wonder if that has anything to do with the president he voted to acquit.) “I feel like I’ve got more important things to do,” Cornyn added.
Sometimes being routinely asked about your job is such a downer. Cornyn’s got a reelection run, folks, the country can just suck it.
Cornyn, like other Senate Republicans, expressed the view that Trump and Barr were well “within their rights” to sack the guy who was running an investigation into Trump’s lawyer and fixer, Rudy Giuliani. And no, he wasn’t interested in why they fired Berman and even confirmed that he had no intention of asking—because frankly, it would just be a real pain in the butt to do something resembling his job.
The Senate GOP’s No. 2, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, similarly downplayed the removal of the person who is running multiple investigations into Trump. “My assumption is whatever investigations are underway, it will be continued by the career staff there. So they’ll go on,” Thune said.
“Assumption” being the operative word. No need to actually check on that, or maybe give Barr the impression that Senate Republicans actually care about his motives and are making certain he’s not interfering with legitimate inquiries into corruption and criminal activity, perhaps at the highest levels of government.
By the way, there is a decent chance those investigations will continue even though Barr clearly intended on running the same play he did at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington—installing a loyalist so he could do favors for Trump allies like trying to lighten their sentence (Roger Stone) or drop their charges altogether (Mike Flynn). But Berman’s initial refusal to leave appears to have brought a critical concession—that Berman’s own chief deputy, Audrey Strauss, will temporarily assume his responsibilities in the Southern District of New York.
Barr made that concession in the letter he sent to Berman following his refusal to step down. “By operation of law, the Deputy United States Attorney, Audrey Strauss, will become the Acting United States Attorney, and I anticipate that she will serve in that capacity until a permanent successor is in place,” Barr wrote. Strauss is an actual career prosecutor who has a working knowledge of the ongoing investigations while the man Barr tried to install, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton, has no actual prosecutorial experience, let alone any familiarity with the current inquiries at SDNY.
But the fact that Berman’s declination to voluntarily step down forced Barr into naming Strauss as his successor in no way diminishes the severity of the abuses of power that Barr and Trump are committing. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has urged the Department of Justice’s internal watchdogs to open an inquiry into the entire matter.
And Sen. Romney agrees, something isn’t right. “From the outside it looks pretty swampy,” Romney told CNN. “I certainly hope that any investigations that were being pursued that would relate to the President or donors or friends would be continued to be pursued.”
But the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee sure won’t go looking. Asked if the American people have the right to know why Berman was fired, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina offered, “Not particularly.” That’s basically the official Senate GOP position on everything Trump: The People will get nothing and we will make sure of that.
Graham echoed other Republicans in asserting that Trump had the right to fire Berman even if Barr’s handling of it was “inartful.” But Graham has also indicated that he plans to honor the blue-slip tradition on Barr’s likely nomination of Clayton to the position, which effectively gives the home state senators—New York Sens. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in this case—the right to hold up the nomination by refusing to sign off on it. If Graham holds to that, Strauss will likely remain as SDNY’s acting U.S. attorney indefinitely.