Today was not a good day for Trump Attorney General Bill Barr, whose testimony is currently being picked apart by pundits and who is being called on to resign by an ever-increasing number of (Democratic) lawmakers. But it was a terrible day for Republican senators. Even now, even after Donald Trump’s status as Individual 1 in an illegal campaign finance scheme, and after the Mueller report outlined numerous circumstances in which Trump attempted to obstruct the federal investigations into his campaign and Russian activities, and after Mueller similarly outlined numerous attempts by members of the campaign, from Donald Trump Jr. to Roger Stone to Paul Manafort, to benefit from and collaborate with Russian efforts, most Republican senators found each of those crises to be uninteresting.
Instead, most Republicans focused on the outraged, and hinted indignantly at the potential criminality of, United States government efforts to investigate those actions. And we are in a very dark place, if the response to 400 pages outlining potential high crimes and misdemeanors and multiple ongoing, still-secret federal criminal investigations is near-unified Republican demands to purge the government of any investigators who dared to investigate those acts to begin with.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, now snuggled fully into Donald Trump’s right shoe, began with a vow to investigate just how the Trump campaign came to be enmeshed with a counterintelligence probe into Russian actions. (Hint: It was because of a series of direct contacts between Russian figures under investigation and members of Trump’s campaign. This has been clear for over two years.) Graham, Grassley, Cornyn: as each Republican had their opportunity to question Barr over a report into potentially criminal actions of the now-sitting president, each chose instead to condemn the very act of investigating a political candidate while simultaneously suggesting that ex-candidate Hillary Clinton, her emails and her campaign were the ones who truly need to be re-re-investigated, yet again.
Sen. John Kennedy does not want to know anything more about the Trump campaign’s actions. He does, however, want a full accounting of why federal agents dared investigate it. Ditto for Sen. Josh Hawley. Ditto for Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Ditto, of course, for Sen. Ted Cruz. Only Sen. Ben Sasse professed alarm at the apparent lesson of Manafort’s actions, grilling Barr (unsuccessfully) on whether hostile foreign powers can now simply hire American political consultants to aid whatever candidates those foreign powers would prefer to see in office, and whether America is now supposed to simply accept such acts as par for the new course.
But Sasse was largely alone; few other Republicans expressed alarm at any of the actions of Donald Trump, in directing staff to impede the Mueller investigation, or of his campaign, in actively seeking and embracing Russian offers of help. It was, all of it, a non-issue. What is important, Graham and compatriots insisted, is getting to the bottom of just why anyone in government thought this was worth investigating.
This is not Watergate. First, Watergate had no component of hostile foreign espionage. And second, the Republican Party is a considerably different beast, one now single-mindedly devoted to recasting American law and government into whatever it needs to be in order to defend Republican acts and seek retaliation against Republican enemies. There is still no sign, not even a glimmer, of a base sense of decency or of a lower bound beyond which unindicted co-conspirator Individual 1 may not go.
This may have been a bad day for Trump’s chosen Roy Cohn, but it was a much worse day for rule of law and for our most basic democratic principles. The Republican Senate has abandoned all interest in it; it is time not to examine Trump’s actions and motives, says Graham and the others, but for retaliation against those who dared try.