I served with Jim Jordan in the House and remember him as a good, decent conservative. He chaired the Republican Study Committee, a predecessor of the Tea Party Caucus, when I was a member. I’ve thought of Mark Meadows the same way: He helped make the health care bill that passed the House a couple of years ago more conservative and sensible than when it was first introduced. While I’m miffed that Republicans apparently are no longer the party of lower deficits and free trade, there have been times that no one could question the conservative bona fides of these two men.
This is not one of those times. Jordan and Meadows belong to a generation of conservatives who supposedly believed that it was Congress’s job to hold the executive branch accountable. Former Tea Party Rep. Mick Mulvaney lamented in 2016 that Republicans were unfairly criticized for applying their standard to President Obama: “When we do it against a Republican president [instead], maybe people will see it was a principled objection in the first place,” he said, according to Tim Alberta’s American Carnage. But they’re not doing it. Donald Trump is in the Oval Office, Mulvaney is his acting chief of staff, and Jordan and Meadows are no longer defenders of the law but apologists for a president who abuses it.
To put a spin on Daniel Patrick Moynihan, just because the three of us share some opinions doesn’t mean we’re entitled to our own facts. Take Wednesday’s upcoming House Judiciary Committee hearing with Robert Mueller, which Jordan and Meadows have been making plans to run right off the rails. Jordan sits on the committee and has telegraphed his questioning in the press. Meadows chairs the House Freedom Caucus (a funny name for a group completely in thrall to President Trump). He and Jordan have used their platforms among Republicans to amplify the White House’s message about Mueller and his investigation—which means they’re telling the story of an alternate reality.
After news of Mueller’s testimony broke, Meadows said that “Mueller better be prepared, [because] he will be cross-examined for the first time, and the American people will start to see the flaws in his report.” First of all, skeptics like Meadows who actually sit on the Judiciary Committee had better be prepared themselves. It’s certainly the right of any committee member to ask tough questions that pertain to the substance of the investigation. But if those in Meadows’s camp are going to be so bold, they should all state, for the record, that they’ve read the source material. To vow that Americans will somehow learn of “flaws” in Mueller’s report is to imply that his critics in Congress can cite chapter and verse. It’s tough to believe that they could, if, as Justin Amash said a couple of Sundays ago, about 85 percent lawmakers still haven’t read the special counsel’s full findings.
Meadows also said it was “disheartening” that Mueller called the report “my testimony,” specifying that he “would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.” That’s not disheartening—it’s encouraging that Mueller said this. Because the facts in his report speak for themselves. The accounts in Volume I of the report, which reveal a campaign all too happy to solicit and receive the aid of a foreign adversary to boost its chances of winning an election, speak for themselves. The examples of obstruction of justice in Volume II of the report speak for themselves. “Does not exonerate” speaks for itself. Here’s the bottom line, folks: We need facts, not fireworks. Mueller will be doing a public service by sticking to them and saying them out loud.
Meadows added another thing: that Mueller has “been courted by the other side so they can harass the president and keep all this narrative.” Remember: There are no “sides” from Robert Mueller’s perspective. He was a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department—the country’s largest independent law enforcement agency—to conduct an investigation. And oh, the irony: Mueller’s own probe discovered that President Trump wanted him fired, and Trump obstructed justice to try to make it happen. There is no evidence that Mueller somehow has been “courted” or swayed by anyone. There is ample evidence, though—provided by the president’s own people, under oath—that he was deterred by Trump himself. And it didn’t stop Mueller from doing his job.
No one should be surprised. There couldn’t have been a better man than Robert Mueller for the job of special counsel. He’s a patriot: A highly decorated Vietnam War hero, a model public servant who Republicans and Democrats alike have praised throughout his career, and a Republican himself, to boot. The American people see right through the attacks on his integrity. Because the attacks are stupid.
So if all this is the general tack that Mueller skeptics will take during the hearing, what might their questions sound like? Here’s Jim Jordan: “[T]he obvious question [to Mueller] is the one that everyone in the country wants to know: When did you first know there was no conspiracy, coordination, or collusion?” This is begging the question. First, Mueller himself said that collusion is not a legal term, and it was not his investigation’s business to define it and then try to establish whether it occurred. What he did find is that President Trump and his campaign officials knowingly welcomed help from the Russians and had at least 140 contacts with Russian operatives. And that they failed to report the Russians’ activities to law enforcement even after the FBI briefed them on the threat. This evidence is damning on its own. It was worth investigating. Once again, that this investigating didn’t uncover sufficient evidence to bring conspiracy charges against the president is a total relief for the country. But because the probe was merited, the charge that it was a “hoax” has been disproven.
If these were the days of Watergate, there would be Republicans who never would’ve used such a word to describe Mueller’s work. There would be Republican representatives like Manley Caldwell Butler of Virginia, who said of Nixon’s offenses, “These things have happened in our house, and it is our responsibility to do what we can to clear it up. It is we, not the Democrats, who must demonstrate that we are capable of enforcing the high standards we would set for them.” Republicans like Butler had a spine. Most Republicans today don’t. So of course they can’t help but lie at the feet of a president whose boots they lick.