Axios has obtained a list of Trump administration scandals. The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.
The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.
Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.
The most predominant theme of the list is corruption. Trump has maintained control of a private business empire, refused to disclose its details to the public, and has interwoven his private and public interests. Congressional Republicans refuse to take any steps to limit the potential for corruption and blackmail. Even the basic step of compelling disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, so that Americans could learn who might be bribing the president, is too much for them.
Republicans have so completely internalized their role as handmaidens to Trump’s corruption that they have turned evidence of his incompetence and guilt into an argument for maintaining their power to cover it up. Why are they emphasizing this point? Some Republican voters are unenthusiastic about the midterm elections, and fail to grasp the stakes. Since the base likes Trump much more than they do his congressional allies, it makes sense for the purposes of base mobilization to emphasize their role as Trump’s legal bodyguards.
Additionally, some of Trump’s allies have floated arguments that Trump would actually benefit from a Democratic Congress, giving him a useful foil to play off of. The Trump scandal list is likely aimed in part at Trump himself, reminding him of what he has to lose if Congress were to begin looking into his misconduct.
The public-facing version of the argument focuses on the specter of impeachment. Democrats in Congress are pragmatic enough to recognize that, merits aside, removing Trump from office would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and hence extensive Republican support, which blocks any partisan removal. They have accordingly played down any such intention. Republicans are the ones elevating impeachment as an issue, hoping to stoke up the Trumpian base.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial echoes the argument made by the party’s congressional wing. After acknowledging that Democratic leaders might be saying they have no intention to impeach the president if they win the House, it proceeds to argue that they will anyway. And the reason it provides is that … Trump is a gigantic crook:
claiming that Mr. Trump is an illegitimate President who conspired with the Kremlin to steal the 2016 election, that he is profiting from the Presidency for personal gain, that he obstructed justice by firing James Comey, and that after Michael Cohen’s plea the President is now “an unindicted co-conspirator” in campaign-finance fraud. …
No doubt Democrats would start slowly by revving up the investigative machinery: subpoenas, hearings, all covered to a fare-thee-well by the media. Michael Cohen will be a major witness, as will the others named in the plea-deal documents. The Trump tax returns will get a star turn.
Having an unindicted co-conspirator who is profiting in secret, and may be subject to all sorts of blackmail, sounds like a situation Congress might want to look into. But rather than conclude from this indictment that Trump is deeply corrupt or in need of oversight, the Journal instead concludes that it shows the importance of not investigating him.
The strategic decision by the Republican majority in Congress to conduct virtually no oversight of the Executive branch is the most important issue at stake in the midterm elections. The decision has been mainly implicit, with almost no public consideration of an alternative course of action. At this point, Republicans have so internalized their subordination to Trump that they are now leaning into the cover-up as a case for maintaining their power.