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Now House Republicans Hate The Rules They Made

Congressional Republicans don’t want to debate President Donald Trump’s attempt to extort political prosecutions of Americans from Ukraine — and given the damning facts emerging every day, their reluctance is understandable, if not honorable. But whining about the process of the impeachment inquiry is only bringing them and their party into deeper disrepute.

Consider the ill-advised and possibly illegal invasion of a secure room in the Capitol on Oct. 23, when a gang of House Republicans led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), delayed the closed testimony of Pentagon official Laura Cooper. Brandishing cellphones and carrying on like the drunken frat boys they once were, Gaetz and his cronies then held a pizza party — and, after a few hours, departed. The hearing went on without them.

By busting into the Secure Compartmented Information Facility, the Gaetz gang jeopardized national security far more brazenly and purposefully than Hillary Clinton’s errant emails ever did. Those politicians know that cellphones and other electronic devices are barred from any Secure Compartmented Information Facility in Washington, and they also know why: to prevent foreign theft of U.S. secrets. At least one member apparently realized that the phones shouldn’t be there and tried to collect them, but it was too late.

Now, at least some of those miscreants should be punished for their stupid stunt — especially the egregious Gaetz, who tried to intimidate former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen before he testified in Congress last winter. (He is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee and the Florida Bar Association for that offense.)

But what was their point, anyway? The Republicans complain that the impeachment inquiry chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), is occurring behind closed doors, that the president’s counsel cannot cross-examine witnesses and that their party is somehow excluded from fair participation in the proceedings. Coming from lawyers, as most of them are, this indignant whining is phony; they all know that these hearings are investigative, like a grand jury proceeding. There will be plenty of time for open hearings and, should Trump be impeached, a Senate trial with a full defense.

According to the Democratic members present in those closed hearings, the Republicans on the relevant committees hardly ever show up. Whenever they do drop in, most of them waste time on conspiracy theories and other nonsense — which isn’t doing the president any favors, but fully displays their intellectual laziness.

What the Republicans also know — but aren’t telling their bamboozled voters — is that the Democrats are conducting the impeachment inquiry under rules that the Republican majority approved in January 2015.

For instance, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), today insists the impeachment inquiry shouldn’t proceed unless the Republicans are permitted to issue subpoenas — but the rule that awards subpoena power exclusively to the majority is precisely what he and his cronies approved four years ago. Minority Whip Steve Scalise compares the inquiry’s closed hearings to “the Soviet Union,” a bit of demagoguery in which he conveniently forgets his own role in approving that rule.

No doubt McCarthy and Scalise can recall, but hope everyone else will forget, how they used those rules in 2016 to engineer an inquisition into Benghazi that was — as the dim McCarthy admitted on television — designed to drive down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. As the last in a dozen inquiries into that Libyan tragedy, it could have had no other purpose.

They may also recall how Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairing the committee that handled the Benghazi inquiry, abused those secrecy and subpoena provisions in an ugly attempt to bully one of Clinton’s advisers, the journalist and historian Sidney Blumenthal. Although Blumenthal volunteered to testify, Gowdy sent armed federal marshals to his home with a subpoena. When Blumenthal did testify, Gowdy held the deposition behind closed doors — and then selectively leaked and distorted portions of the transcript in an attempt to smear the witness and Clinton.

Gowdy’s behavior was so prejudicial that the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), then the committee’s ranking member, apologized personally to Blumenthal. The Republicans never agreed to release the complete transcript of his testimony, despite repeated requests from Blumenthal and his attorney. They seemed to fear Gowdy, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and other Republicans on the committee would look very stupid when their interrogation techniques were revealed.

And now they whine about a process they created while the president and his aides urinate on the Constitution. How do these fakers rise up every day and act out their hypocrisy?

To find out more about National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Remember Benghazi? The Hypocrites On The Hill Should

Donald Trump will never build the Great Wall he envisioned on this country’s southern border, but his lawyers and minions are erecting the largest stonewall against Congressional oversight since Nixon’s presidency. In a scolding letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), White House attorneys have said that the administration will simply reject some 81 subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee that he chairs.

The reason offered for this blanket refusal to cooperate sounds much like a Trump tweet. “Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation,” huffed the president’s lawyers, “not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice”

Requests for information from the House Oversight Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Intelligence Committee have all met with roughly the same arrogant attitude — as if the executive branch has no obligation to provide any information at all to Congress. Such dismissive responses represent a profound violation of the Constitutional order.

Or as certain members of Congress explained not so long ago:

“Congress’s authority to oversee and investigate the Executive Branch is a necessary component of legislative powers and to maintain the constitutional balance of powers between the branches. As the Supreme Court held in 1927: ‘[T]he power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.” Similarly, the Supreme Court held: “The power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes.’ When needed information cannot easily be obtained—or if government agencies resist—Congress has legitimate cause to compel responses.”

That pithy reference to our constitutional framework, complete with the relevant US Supreme Court decision, is from the Final Report of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.  It prefaces a long and indignant recitation of the supposed failures of the Obama administration to cooperate adequately with the Benghazi committee’s lengthy and mostly pointless investigation, which was only the tenth (10th) probe of the 2012 tragedy that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department employees in Libya.

The tenth Benghazi “investigation” was known as a political sham long before Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), then the minority whip and now minority leader, boasted about its impact on Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings — its true and blatantly non-legislative purpose. That was why the Benghazi committee spent hours interviewing Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton adviser with scarcely any connection to Libya and none whatsoever to Benghazi, about political topics including the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters for America, and his communications with the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. (To this day, the transcript of Blumenthal’s interview with the committee remains sealed. Presumably that’s because its contents would prove so embarrassing to the Republicans who questioned him, including then-Rep. Mike Pompeo.)

When the Benghazi committee issued its final report — just in time for the 2016 presidential election — its press releases boasted about all the new information it had discovered through interviews of 107 witnesses, many from the White House, CIA, State and Defense Departments. The most notable was Clinton, of course, who sat for 11 hours of nonsensical public badgering by committee members. The Obama administration not only delivered 75,000 pages of documents, in addition to 50,000 provided to the previous investigations, but removed redactions as requested by the committee.

Yet none of this was enough for Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chaired the committee and bitched endlessly about the Democratic president’s attempt to “obstruct” his investigation. Incidentally, his final report culminated in no significant legislation concerning diplomatic security or any other conceivable issue — because that was never the Benghazi committee’s aim.

Now the same Republicans who whined so loudly about “lack of transparency” when Obama was president are silent, complicit, or aggressive shills for Trump. They are aiding and abetting his obstruction of Congressional investigations of the worst national scandal since Watergate, after two years of covering up for Trump and Russia when they held the majority.

They swore to uphold the Constitution, but for them it is always party first. Their oath means nothing.

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton listens to a question as she testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Rep. Gowdy: Intelligence Committee Report Did Not Vindicate Trump

Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.com.

Trump seized on the Republican House Intelligence Committee’s sham report last week to once again push his “no collusion” talking point. But South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a prominent member of that committee, shot the argument down Sunday morning.

On CBS News’ Face the Nation, host Margaret Brennan pointed out that Gowdy’s committee did not interview Michael Flynn, among others. And she asked about Trump’s interpretation of the committee’s findings.

“The president, when he looks at your report, feels vindicated,” Brennan said. “Are you saying he should not?”

Gowdy is as rabid an attack dog as Republicans have. Yet his response was drastically different from Trump’s vehement line.

“I will be careful how I phrase this,” Gowdy said. “No report — the best we can do is say what we learned. I can’t say what’s in the universe of witnesses we have not talked to. And I have always maintained I am awaiting the Mueller investigation. They get to use a grand jury. They have investigative tools that we don’t have.”

He continued by pointing out that “executive branch investigations are just better than congressional ones.” And he added that he simply “can’t speak to” whether or not evidence of collusion exists.

Trump has indeed used the committee’s final report to falsely claim vindication. “House Intelligence Committee rules that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia,” he tweeted.

But even that sham report, which was put out only by the Republicans on the committee, made no such “ruling.” It simply stated that the committee had “found no evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

And Gowdy’s statement actually echoes what Democrats on the committee have been saying. Republicans’ insistence they found no evidence of collusion is meaningless because they did not subpoena witnesses and documents that would have been relevant to the subject.

Trump can repeat the lie that there was “no collusion” as often as he likes. But that will not make it true — not even for a Republican zealot like Trey Gowdy.

IMAGE: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) arrives before Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to testify before his House Select Committee on Benghazi about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trey Gowdy Joins Record Number Of GOP Lawmakers Leaving Capitol Hill

Just minutes before South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy announced that he would forego a bid for reelection to the House of Representatives, a train carrying several GOP lawmakers crashed into a truck in Virginia.

The accident killed the truck’s driver and injured several members of Congress, making it no laughing matter. But it’s hard not to notice the symbolism of a Republican party on track toward disaster in November.

Gowdy tweeted on Wednesday morning that he intends to leave Capitol Hill, quoting the Bible and expressing a desire to return to the judicial branch. “Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” he wrote.

That makes sense on a few levels. The 53-year-old is a former prosecutor who has driven colleagues to frustration with a stubborn resolve to beat investigatory dead horses, including Benghazi, since winning South Carolina’s Fourth District in 2011. He is currently chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and chaired the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which blew up as an embarrassment to the Republican leadership.

Taken in context, Gowdy’s decision underscores a trend of House Republicans dropping out of midterm races before they can even begin. By January 31, a total of 33 incumbent GOP lawmakers have announced that they will not run for reelection in 2018, compared to just 15 Democratic reps who will not seek another term. Nine of them are committee chairs, another extraordinary statistic.

On average, only 22 members of the U.S. House of Representatives decide not to defend their seats in a given election cycle.

Other GOP incumbents who are retiring or otherwise not seeking midterm reelection include Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona,Orrin Hatch of Utah and that state’s Rep, Jason Chaffetz.  Hatch is currently the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Is there a Trump effect? Saddled with a President whose job approval ratings have hit several historic lows, speculation is rampant that Republicans in Congress are quitting while they’re ahead. Generic polling for November favors Democrats, and the president manages to inflame the public with harsh rhetoric and blundering policy moves each time the GOP begins to gain ground.

Republicans seem to be running scared. As Russell Berman of The Atlantic writes, “If you want to see a political wave forming a year before an election, watch the retirements…2018 is shaping up ominously for Republicans.”

Gowdy might be misled from an ideological point of view, but nobody can accuse him of being a dummy. Like a record number of fellow GOP members, “The Bulldog” is finding an exit door before Trump burns the whole house down.