The GOP just made a really huge mistake: David Cay Johnston

The GOP just made a really huge mistake: David Cay Johnston
PBS NewsHour

House Republicans made a huge mistake during the Mueller hearings Wednesday. Unintentionally, for sure, they created the opportunity for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to overcome the only reason to avoid impeaching Trump – the certainty that Mitch McConnell would never allow the Senate to convict.

The GOP mistake? Not raising one word of concern about Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

Not a word about the fact that the Kremlin wanted Trump to win, set out to make that happen. Not one word about the fact that Trump and his team eagerly embraced their help. Not one word asking about the sensitive campaign strategy materials that Trump’s campaign chairman, now a convicted felon, shared with a Russian oligarch. Not one question designed to pursue all the lying, denying and hiding the facts of Russian interference in our democracy.

On top of that testimony, Mueller revealed that “currently” there are “many elements” of the FBI looking into how Trump’s first national security director, now a confessed felon, created ongoing dangers to our national security because he was secretly a well-paid foreign agent working in the Trump White House. 

All this and more that Mueller testified about show that Donald Trump and his team are not loyal Americans. Now add in that Trump says he would accept future help from the Kremlin (and other foreign interests), and that Senator McConnell will do nothing to protect the integrity of our elections. 

All of this screams one word: disloyalty.

Our elected officials all swore oaths to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Confronted with Mueller’s clear and unambiguous testimony about Kremlin interference how could the Republicans stay silent? 

It was Republicans, after all, who made their mark after World War II by hunting for communists under beds from Hollywood to the U.S. Army command, an era some call The Great Fear. The Republicans relentlessly stoked public fear of the Kremlin doing everything from paying off high officials to putting poison in our drinking water. And they did so right up until the day Trump took office, an office that the Mueller report and testimony showed was obtained through covert and criminal help from the Kremlin, help that continues to this day.

How could every single Republican on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees fail to inquire about ongoing efforts by Russia, and other countries, to interfere in our elections? How could Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California stay silent? How could Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chair of the national GOP continue acting as a Trump lapdog?

The answer is that in 2017 the Republican leadership abandoned seven decades of campaigning on Russian threats to America. The party choose to convert from being the party of business, lower taxes on the rich, pro-business regulations and vigilance against the Kremlin into the Trump Protection Racket. 

The few Republicans who have demonstrated some courage in standing up to Trump – now former Senator Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, along with Representative Jordan Amash of Michigan – have been attacked by leaders of their own party. Even if you disagree with them, all three acted with various degrees of integrity in refusing to shield Trump from his own misconduct.

And what of the rest of the GOP? Surveys show many party members say they know Trump is dishonest, even disloyal, (and a sexual predator and tax cheat) but they plan to vote for him anyway. Do nothing, Madam Speaker, and that is just what will happen in November 2020

Call them out, Nancy. That’s all you have to do – authorize public hearings that will make the case that the Republicans will sell us out to Vladimir Putin just to hold onto power. Put the Republicans enabling Trump on the defensive by holding day after day of public hearings that through the steady drip, drip, drip of new facts expose the perfidy of the whole gang of Trump Protection Racketeers.

In doing so the Speaker should keep in mind a  crucial difference between advertising and marketing versus news and commentary. We break news and move on. But marketing and advertising are based on three rules: repeat, repeat, repeat until the message gets embedded in millions of minds.

The marketing principle should dominate here. And by exposing facts day after day the news, and commentary, will follow, wearing down the disloyal opposition.

This will also require explaining, endlessly, to politics reporters how government works, that this is not about the horse race politics they are paid to cover (and cover well), but about whether our democracy and the liberties of the people endure. 

The way to do this is most definitely not by going after the Republicans directly. Labeling them as the craven disloyalists that they have become will just devolve into a cat fight.

The way to approach this is through public hearings that go where Mueller could not.

We got from Mueller a keyhole view of the criminal enterprise that is the Trump Administration. Mueller had a very narrow charter and yet in two years his office produced 37 indictments with convictions or guilty pleas in every case that has been adjudicated. There are at least 14 ongoing criminal inquiries, the specifics redacted from the Mueller report

Just this week the No. 2 Trump transition official on national security, Bijan Kian, was convicted on both counts of acting secretly as a foreign agent for Turkish interests. His boss, disgraced former general Michael Flynn, has confessed to his crimes.

And remind the public often that Trump is the unindicted coconspirator in the crimes to which his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed and is now in prison. The fact is that our president is a crook, something that needs to be repeated as often as Flo pitches insurance for Progressive.

With public hearings, House Democrats can throw wide open the door that Trump hides behind, throwing the spotlight of truth on his conduct before and in office.

There is no limit on where Congress can go in impeachment proceedings. Money laundering, tax cheating, investment frauds, illicit communications with Putin and other foreign leaders, abuse of public funds, violations of the emoluments clause… the list goes on and on and on. 

High on that list should be Jared Kushner’s plan to use secret Russian diplomatic communications equipment in the Washington embassy to communicate with Moscow. So should the intelligence information Kushner has obtained and what he shared with the Saudi government and others. 

That is the kind of act for which pre-Trump Republicans would have been demanding prosecution and, if the facts are bad enough, execution for treasonous conduct.

Through months of such hearings House Democrats can call on Republicans to inquire about Russian interference and, if they decline, call them out for not inquiring. 

This requires a rhetorical rapier, not a broad axe.  The object is not to destroy the GOP, because we don’t want one-party rule by any party, but to break up the Trump Protection Racket and restore the rule of law as well as a functioning two-party system. 

In these hearings the Democrats can keep reminding the public that Mueller was not allowed to look into what influence the Saudis and Emiratis exercised. Mueller was not allowed to look into whether Trump has laundered money for Russians, Middle Easterners and assorted crooks, which I and others have written about at length. Nor was Mueller allowed to pursue Trump as a tax cheat, illegal and potentially criminal conduct about which there is no longer any rational reason to doubt.

In unleashing an impeachment inquiry Pelosi can also expect thoughtful coordination by her members. The Wednesday hearings showed almost no preening for the cameras by House Democrats (and not much from Republicans, either).  

There is another added benefit to authorizing impeachment proceedings. It takes away from Trump his backstop of self-protection. Trump cannot pardon himself and he cannot resign in favor of Mike Pence in exchange for a pardon.

That’s because the Framers of our Constitution wisely denied the pardon power “in cases of impeachment.”

The challenge for Pelosi is to build the case that Trump is disloyal, as well as a crook, and to make it politically untenable for Republicans to protect Trump from his own misconduct. The focus of that effort must be on Senate Republicans because impeachment is only a charge which must be tried in the Senate. Pelosi needs to move 20 GOP senators to remove Trump. Done right, she can move all of them to vote to convict Trump, opening the door as Mueller testified to prosecuting him for his many crimes.

To those who doubt, note that when Watergate began the public yawned. But by August 1974 not one Representative or Senator stood with Nixon, who had the decency to resign. Trump’s crimes are far worse, but millions of Americans who rely on the mendacious “news” on Fox, Breitbart and similar outfits have no idea of this and believe Trump is being railroaded.

Pelosi is a five-star general of Capitol Hill politics, arguably the most politically astute Speaker in the history of our Republic. She saved the Affordable Care Act from the inept and soft-spined Barack Obama, an astonishing achievement. She wrangled a coordinated, thoughtful series of questions Wednesday with little preening for the television cameras by her members. (There was remarkably minimal GOP preening as well, just not questions about Kremlin interference in American democracy.)

The worst thing Pelosi can do is to save the Republicans from themselves. They have made their bed with Trump. Pelosi can make them suffer the consequences of choosing Trump over America, of choosing acceptance of Kremlin interference over decades of GOP rhetoric about Moscow. 

There is risk that this strategy will fail, that McConnell will be able to protect Trump. But hearings exposing the real Trump, not the television image, should move more than enough hearts and minds to make a Senate cquittal geerate popular outrage.

As for the rest of us, it’s our duty to demand that the Speaker move off her understandable reticence to embrace impeachment. Call your lawmakers, call your friends and family, and say this is an opportunity to defend our liberties – and a failure if nothing is doe..

As Representative Elijah Cummings said after the Wednesday Mueller hearings: "I'm begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on...if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children's children ... we have to guard this moment. This is on our watch."

All that is needed for the evil of a Kremlin-chosen presidency to continue is for good men and women to do nothing. Don’t go gripe on the internet – act. Tell your senators and representative to act. Register to vote. Get others registered. Demonstrate. Exercise your Constitutional right to peacefully raise hell until the Trump Protection Racket is broken up. 

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