During the Obama presidency, just about every Republican in the Senate at one point or another supported the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the various controversies of the day. And yet many of the same senators—including the ones most identified with the label "constitutional conservative"—are treating President Donald Trump's chaotic firing of FBI Director James Comey with a wave of the hand, even outright applause.
In a new op-ed for the L.A. Times, I encourage three in particular to get back in touch with the allergy to executive power and respect for congressional oversight that made them so interesting in the first place. Here's how the column begins:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the noted former litigator and poster boy for constitutional conservatism, had some stern words for the attorney general of the United States. "Predecessors of yours in both parties, Democrat and Republican, when faced with serious charges of abuse of power for partisan gain," Cruz said, "have made the right decision and appointed special prosecutors."
The year was 2014. The allegation was that the Internal Revenue Service was disproportionately targeting tea party-affiliated groups for heightened tax-status scrutiny. And the special prosecutor — actually special counsel; the prosecutor job expired with the enabling statute back in 1999 — was never appointed. It should have been then. It should be now.
But not according to Cruz, 2017 edition. On Wednesday, the senator released a brief statement agreeing with President Trump's sudden firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, no matter how suspiciously timed or absurdly justified. "Unfortunately," Cruz said, "Mr. Comey had lost the confidence of both Republicans and Democrats, and, frankly, the American people."
We expect that kind of ritual partisan insincerity from the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a serial Obama-era supporter of special counsels who sure enough responded to Trump's ham-handed behavior by chortling hackishly about "Democratic colleagues complaining about the removal of an FBI director whom they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticized."
But the tea party generation of Constitution-waving legislators, with their Federalist Papers quotations on separation of powers and Senate stemwinders on executive power abuse, was supposed to be different.