House Speaker Paul Ryan has unfailingly supported House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes in his efforts to subordinate the Department of Justice to Donald Trump’s whims. The latest Ryan-Nunes maneuver is an unprecedented demand that Nunes be given unrestricted access to Robert Mueller’s evidence. Explaining his reasoning to reporters, Ryan sounded a characteristically high-minded note, even (consciously or not) echoing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. “We the people, the Congress, have given the Executive branch a lot of power in this very important law,” he intoned, “and it’s really important that we conduct the proper oversight of the Executive branch to make sure that that power is not or has not or will not be abused.”
Look who’s suddenly interested in overseeing the Executive branch! It’s the man who has quashed repeated votes to release the president’s tax returns, conducted a sham hearing on the president’s ties to Russia (which ended hastily and with a preordained conclusion), and refused to conduct oversight about anything else, in the face of scandals oozing out of every orifice of the administration.
Of course, oversight of the Executive branch is not an activity that interests Ryan. His goal is closer to the opposite. Ryan and Nunes are conducting oversight over the Department of Justice precisely because, while part of the Executive branch, it is independent of it. The independence is precisely the thing that troubles Ryan and Nunes, and which they aim to quash, thereby increasing the power of the president.
Ryan is obviously committed to using his power to help Donald Trump get as close as possible to his dream of having the Department of Justice ignore any crimes by him or his supporters and instead harass his enemies. Some people have been surprised by this turn in Ryan’s career, but those of us who detected his Randian contempt for democracy saw it coming all along. (Authoritarian means harnessed to libertarian ends, you might say.) It’s apparently too much to expect that, in the final months of his time in elected office, Ryan would drop the smarmy pretense and cop to his actual priorities.