Why House Republicans are incapable of investigating Trump

Congress must investigate Trump. But the GOP will never do it right.

Republicans will want to bury the bad thing.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Trump's potential connections with Russia, and how they might have influenced the election, deserve careful investigation. Given the large amount of circumstantial evidence (and the rather harebrained speculation that has gripped some liberals) it only makes sense to conduct a thorough and measured probe. And given the basic structure of our government, Congress is the logical candidate to carry it out.

But any sensible person who has been conscious at some point during the last couple decades would guess that Republicans would instinctively bury any bad thing committed by a co-partisan. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who chaired the House investigation until Thursday, when the House Committee on Ethics announced he was being investigated due to potential "unauthorized disclosures of classified information" and he stepped down, fulfilled this cynical prediction to the letter.

But the people who are replacing Nunes — Rep. Mike Conway (R-Texas), with some assistance from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Slytherin) and Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) — are if anything even less credible investigators. America will never get anything remotely approaching a proper congressional investigation so long as Republicans control the House of Representatives.

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Nunes barely even bothered to hide that he was working hand-in-glove with President Trump to bury the investigation. When Trump accused former President Obama of having personally wiretapped his residence, Nunes (who worked on the Trump transition) brought it up at the next committee hearing, where he did his utmost to create the impression that Trump could have been right in some way. Then he was briefed by somebody at a National Security Council location (possibly his own former staffer who now works for Trump), and then went immediately to Trump to tell him what he had learned.

He later announced that, according to classified material he had seen, Trump or his associates might have been "incidentally" spied on by U.S. agencies. It turned out that White House sources had provided those reports.

It was all misdirection, coordinated with the White House. But the particular form this misdirection took — a mixture of garbled quarter-truths and outright nonsense — is telling.

As Alex Pareene writes, the Republican Party has been half-devoured by their diseased media apparatus, which is concerned above all with stoking fear and paranoia among aging white conservatives so as to better sell them reverse mortgages, sexy-time pills, and quack medicine. But after the abysmal failure of George W. Bush's presidency, and the election of the first black president, total meltdown ensued:

Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then — in a much more consequential development — a large portion of the Republican congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else. [Fusion]

It wasn't that obvious until they actually took power, and it was ground into everyone's face that a good third of elected Republicans, including the president, aren't even in the same time zone as reality. Our president is a foolish old man who watches a lot of cable news and reads a lot of reactionary conspiracy websites, and then tweets wild exaggerations of what he sees and reads. (That is literally how the wiretapping claim got started.)

So who are the replacements for Nunes? Conaway is known mainly for being a fervent Trump partisan and comparing the idea of Russians influencing the election by hacking Democratic communications to Democrats hiring Mexican performers to get out the Latino vote. Gowdy we all know as the man behind the endless Benghazi witch hunt. Rooney is more of an unknown quantity, though he at least did not support Trump in the election.

In any case, the smart money would be against this going anywhere. Conducting a scrupulous investigation of potential Trump corruption would mean confronting a mountain of paranoia and nonsense, both from Republican base voters and from the White House. Far, far easier to just sweep things under the rug.

Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee is promising to look into things with a bit more bipartisan cooperation, though they haven't produced anything yet. But only if Democrats manage to take back the House in 2018, allowing the creation of a special select committee taken from both the House and the Senate, could Congress put its full weight behind an investigation and do its constitutional duty.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.