The House of Representatives has given up the pretense of conducting oversight on the Executive branch, and is instead operating as an organ of it. The ultimate responsibility for this choice rests in the hands of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who runs the institution. In January, officials at the Department of Justice asked Ryan to rein in his attack dog, Devin Nunes, who they saw as threatening to expose important national-security secrets in his quest to discredit the agencies investigating Trump, his de facto client. Ryan refused. And now the New York Times reports Ryan has done it again.
The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the House committee had leaked text messages between Senator Mark Warner and a lawyer involved in the Russia probe to Fox News. The result of the leak was more grist for the pseudo-scandal Nunes has been fanning. Warner was “colluding” with someone connected to the dossier. Warner and Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were so disturbed by this breach they met with Ryan to ask him to control Nunes. Ryan again disavowed any responsibility. “In his meeting with the senators,” the Times reports, “Mr. Ryan made clear that he heard their complaints but noted that he did not run the committee himself, the officials briefed on the encounter said.”
The House is running a counter-investigation on Russia, generating a steady stream of allegations, which inevitably disintegrate upon examination, designed to protect Trump. The side effect is to instill in the conservative base paranoid distrust of the deep state, and ultimately to justify any actions Trump has taken or will take to avoid legal accountability. In public, Ryan has kept his distance, mostly talked about fiscal issues, and let Nunes be the face of the counter-investigation. But people inside government know who’s really in charge. The House is helping Trump subvert the rule of law because that’s what Paul Ryan wants.