The Republican Lying Problem
The biggest problem Republicans have as they twist themselves into knots trying to support Donald Trump’s steady stream of lies is the president himself can’t keep his fraudulent cover stories straight. Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders got caught out in public peddling the absurd White House claim that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey—get ready to slap your foreheads—because Comey acted improperly investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails and handed the presidency to Trump.
That hilarious whopper lasted less than a day before Trump admitted in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he decided to fire Comey before he ever met with the Justice Department official assigned to write the Clinton document as an excuse. Instead, Trump immediately connected Comey’s firing directly to the issue virtually everyone in Washington, Republican or Democrat, knew was Trump’s real problem with Comey.
That, of course, was the on-going FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian covert interference in the presidential election. “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump told Holt.
Subverting American Democracy
No one knows yet what hard evidence the FBI might uncover, but it’s another glaring Trump falsehood to call possible subversion of a U.S. election by a long-standing enemy of American democracy “a made-up story.”
Every U.S. intelligence agency—and there are many more than you know—has concluded Russian operatives secretly used disinformation and other propaganda tactics to try to sway the election for Trump. And it’s not made up that since the election we’ve learned of previously unreported meetings between Russian intelligence agents and numerous key Trump campaign officials including son-in-law Jared Kushner, former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, later forced to resign for lying about such meetings.
A few Republicans feign concern for democracy even as they pursue policies demonstrating their absolute contempt for voting rights and the racial and religious diversity of America. The Republican version of populism excludes much of the population. The most important political priority for Republicans these days is to minimize the fallout from any congressional investigations into the Russia connection that could threaten total Republican control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.
Comey’s independent FBI investigation, with the power to uncover criminal acts and recommend charges, was a grave threat not only to Trump’s presidency, but also to Republicans in Congress.
The irony is Trump’s desperate attempt to torpedo that investigation by firing Comey only increases the peril for his presidency and for Republicans. Trump’s admission that the Russian investigation was a primary motive will make it increasingly uncomfortable for Republicans to continue resisting demands for an independent, non-partisan special prosecutor to oversee the FBI investigation.
Trump’s Man at the FBI?
It would take a special kind of ignorance to trust any FBI director hand-picked by Trump to pursue evidence of his campaign’s collusion with the Russians wherever it might lead.
It’s been difficult for Republican leaders to call Trump out on many of his most outrageous lies because, of course, they’re the ones who invented blatant lying as a Republican strategy. Trump has simply pushed it to embarrassingly transparent extremes.
For some reason, Ryan has always enjoyed a much higher reputation for honesty in the media than Trump. That’s ironic since it was Ryan who set the standard for Trump’s brazen dishonesty four years earlier in his acceptance speech as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate. A Fox News online columnist, of all people, described Ryan’s convention speech as “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.” Provable lies included Ryan blaming President Obama for the closing of the GM plant in his hometown of Janesville that was announced in June 2008, under George W. Bush.
And, of course, since the election, the lies of Trump and Ryan have been remarkably in sync. They both claim they’re improving health care and lowering the cost for everyone with a bill destroying it for 24 million people and driving costs out of sight for older and less wealthy Americans.<>But Republicans are entering dangerous new territory now if they continue to support obvious Trump lies as he attempts to disrupt a criminal investigation. Legal penalties for obstruction of justice can be much more severe than the consequences for broken campaign promises.
Most people may not be thinking about the 2018 mid-term elections yet, but Republicans certainly are as Trump has raised the uproar in Washington to Watergate levels barely 100 days into his presidency. We can expect Ryan and other Republican leaders to try to lay low for as long as possible while they look for some safe place to hide. There may not be any.