'Constitutional Conservatives' Lose Interest in Holding Trump Accountable
As on war and spending, the constitutional conservative approach to oversight is best demonstrated when the president is a Democrat.
When Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio), Rep. Mark Meadows (R–N.C.), Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), and six other colleagues co-founded the House Freedom Caucus in January 2015, there was ample reason for libertarians to cheer. Unlike the soft-spined conservatism of the larger Republican Study Committee, the Freedom Caucus promised to be much more hardcore about spending, war, constitutionalism, and oversight of the executive branch. "We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution, and the rule of law," a founding statement from Jordan's office read.
As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules, Jordan frequently took a moralistic approach to calling out the Obama administration's lies. "From the beginning, what President Obama told Americans about his health care law proved false," he charged, accurately, in February 2015.
When the House passed (though the Senate did not take up) a resolution in 2014 requesting appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups, the author was no surprise: Jim Jordan. "We need this Special Counsel to help us get to the truth because the so-called investigation by the Justice Department has been a joke," he said at the time.
So how did Jordan react to the May 2017 appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI's ongoing investigation into the Russia-related activities of President Donald Trump? "Well, I'm—you know, look, I guess I'll keep an open mind," were the congressman's first recorded public words. That mind has been closing ever since.
Five weeks later, Jordan and Meadows were already co-authoring op-eds saying it was "time to investigate the investigators" because Mueller's team leaned too Democratic. One month after that, Jordan signed onto an official request for a second special counsel, this one focusing on potential crimes by Hillary Clinton. The congressman is a permanent fixture on cable news, hyping the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Mueller-probe controversy and issuing grave condemnations against any official seemingly caught in a lie.
Except Donald Trump.
In an April CNN interview, Anderson Cooper asked Jordan whether he thinks Trump "lies a lot." Jordan answered, "I do not." Cooper then asked whether he had ever heard the president lie. "He's always been square with me," the congressman said. After a few more attempts, Cooper settled on whether Trump has ever "publicly said anything that is a lie." Jordan's stammery answer: "I mean, look, I don't know of it. Nothing comes to mind, but look, people who talk as much as you and I do, my guess is probably, Anderson, you may have said something at some point that wasn't 100 percent accurate." So had he ever heard Trump later correct and apologize for a misstatement? "I don't know that he said something wrong that he needs to apologize for."
Jordan's obsequiousness and situational morality, shared by a sizeable number of House Republicans, is already showing evidence of harming the very president he aims to protect.
By crying wolf over a never-ending series of Mueller-related scandals and document reveals that fizzled on the launching pad—most notably, the long-awaited February memo from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R–Calif.) showing the investigative origins of the Russia probe—Trump's apologists are training Americans to tune out even those critiques that have some merit, such as evidence of dishonest leakage from the likes of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
By looking more like partisan hacks than constitutional stalwarts, Republicans give a disgruntled populace even less reason to vote for them, potentially jeopardizing their majorities in both the House and the Senate, where any future impeachment trial would take place.
Trump himself hampers his public defenders by barking out conspiratorial insults ("witch hunt!"), saying stuff that isn't true, and changing his stories on a dime. The Comey firing had nothing whatsoever to do with the Russia probe, Vice President Mike Pence ostentatiously pronounced right after the news broke. Two days later, Trump was cheerfully volunteering the contrary.
The Jim Jordans of the world may yet provide a valuable function in this dreary process, by holding Mueller and his gang to a more demanding standard of rectitude. But as on war and spending, the constitutional conservative approach to oversight is best demonstrated when the president is a Democrat.