House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) asserted last week that if the president were a Democrat, the House wouldn’t be pursing impeachment. He must know that’s not true.
If FBI Director James B. Comey had angered a President Hillary Clinton by restarting the investigation into her private email server and she had fired him, Republicans would be howling. Rightly so.
Instead, Donald Trump won the election. Comey was pursuing an investigation into Russian meddling. It angered President Trump, and he fired Comey. But rather than howling, Republicans are whimpering. The chair of the Republican National Committee has even called for a halt to all investigations of collusion with Russia. That’s a problem.
I was on the House Judiciary Committee that began the consideration of impeaching of President Bill Clinton. Armed with information from independent counsel Kenneth Starr, we were convinced the president had lied under oath. We drafted articles of impeachment, and a majority of the House concurred with our assessment. The Senate subsequently determined that there wasn’t sufficient cause to remove him from office. In retrospect, a public censure or reprimand may have been more advisable.
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Regardless, Clinton was impeached for charges less serious than the ones before us now. In the current case, Comey was exploring the possibility of American involvement in the Russian plot, a treasonous offense. While it’s not time to start drafting articles of impeachment, it is time to pursue this investigation into Russian meddling in our presidential election with vigor, without friends to reward and without enemies to punish.
Confronting Trump will take more courage than it took when Republicans told President Richard Nixon that it was time for him to leave office. Not that Trump is more imposing than Nixon; Nixon was a serious president with significant accomplishments. The difference, now, is the presence of sycophantic media.
When Republicans confronted Nixon in 1974, they faced three, 30-minute, nightly news broadcasts. The networks competed, but their newscasts and the facts presented were virtually identical. Those Republicans knew that their political futures rested upon their maintenance of credibility.
Today, Fox News, talk radio, Breitbart and others fawn over Trump, Vice President Pence and the rest of the administration. They amplify the White House’s words while defying the journalistic calling to test and to probe the government’s claims. Recall, for example, how those outlets immediately affirmed Trump’s unsubstantiated morning tweets about President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of Trump Tower.
With Fox and others clogging the media landscape, Republicans’ political futures now rest on feeding the passions and proclivities of Trump’s hard-core base – the 39 percent of the electorate that likes him and responds to his code of grievance. That 39 percent is the dominant force in Republican primaries today. Cross them and you die.
That’s why Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, used his time at last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to ask Comey questions that excused, lessened and dismissed the possible connection between the Russians and Trump. It’s not that Trump has wooed Rubio; it’s that the Florida senator is aware of the power of the 39 percent.
Of course, the 39 percent will ultimately kill the Republican Party unless we can turn them around. A dead GOP would deprive a generation of Americans of the free-enterprise and individual-accountability solutions that thoughtful people such as Rubio would like to offer. Furthermore, a hostile foreign power has struck at the heart of our constitutional republic. As Comey said with passion last week, “If any Americans were part of helping the Russians do that to us, that is a very big deal.” Republicans must be prepared to follow those facts all the way to the president, his family and his campaign, if that’s where the facts lead. Fox News alerts play it down, the RNC says drop it, and the 39 percent shrugs, but we need real courage from real Republicans and a real investigation.
Bob Inglis, a Republican, represented South Carolina in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999 and 2005 to 2011.