Friday, January 26, 2018


David Leonhardt of The New York Times is not a great admirer of White House counsel Don McGahn:
I would caution people not to lionize McGahn. He’s been involved in some of this administration’s seedier acts, including the nomination of unqualified federal-judge candidates, at least one of whom had personal ties to him. He also played a role in previous attempts by the White House to muck up the Russia investigation, including the firing of James Comey as the F.B.I. director.
And yet Leonhardt praises McGahn for resisting President Trump's demands for the dismissal of Robert Mueller:
But McGahn acted honorably and bravely when it mattered most. He flat-out refused an order from his boss, which is never easy, let alone when your boss is the president and the order deals with the most explosive subject in politics. He doesn’t deserve to be lionized, but he does deserve praise.
But Peter Beinart explains why McGahn seemed to act honorably:
More than perhaps anyone else in the Trump White House, he’s a longtime member, in good standing, of the Washington Republican establishment....

[In 2014,] he went to work at Jones Day, a prestigious law firm long known for its conservative leanings. McGahn’s wife served for many years as staff director of the House Financial Services Committee. Which helps explain why, when McGahn went to work for the Trump campaign, a Washington Post profile called him its “unofficial liaison to the Washington establishment.”

... Imagine trying to return to Jones Day—or some equivalent firm—after firing Robert Mueller. In the words of Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar, who has tussled with McGahn for many years, “He didn’t want that personal baggage. What’s he going to do for a living, go live in a frat house with Steve Bannon and Dr. Price and Sean Spicer and people that can’t get a job?”
Leonhardt hopes that Republicans in Congress, like McGahn, will do the right thing if Mueller is threatened again:
Unfortunately, other Republicans may soon find themselves facing the same decision as McGahn did. Trump has recently been offering conciliatory words about the investigation, but there is every reason to think he is afraid of it — and willing to do almost anything to obstruct it. Here’s hoping other Republicans show the same courage as McGahn.
But congressional Republicans don't have the same career fears as McGahn -- they won't put their reputations at risk with their base voters if they run interference for Trump, and after passing the tax bill, they have no reason to fear that future employment if they leave Congress, as lobbyists and on corporate boards, will be denied them for that reason.

McGahn works in the White House -- if Mueller is let go, he can't pretend that the dismissal has nothing to do with him. But Republican members of Congress can evade responsibility. They can just say they're "deeply concerned" and do nothing to hold Trump accountable, and they won't suffer for it.

Jonathan Chait cites a January 11 news conference as an example of how Paul Ryan sidesteps questions about the president:
A reporter asked Ryan if he believed the president should cooperate with Robert Mueller if he wanted an interview. Ryan dispatched it very quickly: “I’ll defer to the White House on all those questions. This pertains to them, not this branch.”

That has been Ryan’s stance all along. All the icky stuff Trump does, the corruption and disdain for the rule of law, is Trump’s business. Ryan’s defenders have accepted this and woven it into the broader rationale for conservative acceptance of Trump’s presidency.
But Ryan quietly aids Trump:
In fact, there are things Ryan could do.... The House of Representatives could pass a bill to compel the release of Trump’s tax returns.... Democrats have repeatedly introduced bills to disclose the tax returns. Yet the House — Ryan’s House — has blocked every one....

And now, Trump and his allies are circulating absurd lies about the Department of Justice in order to enable the administration to avoid any accountability to the rule of law. The heart of this campaign is the chamber Ryan controls.
And yet even if Trump is indisputably exposed as a singularly corrupt traitor, Ryan and other congressional Republicans will avoid being held accountable. They're not in the White House. Their future employers -- voters, donors, lobbyists -- won't hold their behavior against them the way the D.C. establishment would have held Don McGahn's complicity in a Mueller dismissal against him. So we won't see any honorable acts from Republicans in Congress.

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