The reverberations of the political change being pushed by the Trump presidency seem to know no boundaries.
Many of us who supported Donald Trump did so fully understanding that the system needed an irreverent jolt, and that another steady Republican succession plan would result in warmed-over swamp expansions.
It was often discussed that change was needed to save the republic, even if that change would cause collateral damage. This week Devin Nunes, a highly regarded, hard-charging young conservative from California, had to step away from his House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the hijinks around Russia, the wacky 2016 election and President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE’s shocking claim that he had been surveilled at the end of the Obama administration.
Chairman Nunes was put in a horrible political position when Trump issued his infamous tweets charging former President Obama with wiretapping. These tweets propelled further charges from Democrats that Russia had “tampered” with our election, or at least had worked so aggressively against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight MORE that Trump owed his victory to these Russian crimes.
But another Trump tweet that seems to have been forgotten helped set the stage that caused Nunes to temporarily step away from the investigation.
Back in early January, our new president was still putting the finishing touches on his fancy new office when news broke that the House was going to reform a Nancy Pelosi-era duplicative ethics watchdog known as the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Its creation in 2008 was the result of lots of nasty unethical behavior by various Republican members, which allowed the Democrats to grab back control in 2006.
Pelosi shrewdly used ethics violations against Republicans, much like Newt Gingrich did against Democratic leaders during his tenure. Conservatives will forever cherish the toppling of Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, as it foreshadowed a growing, aggressive new Republican spirit that would result in the GOP taking over the majority for the first time in over 40 years.
But by the time the current Congress gaveled in, Republican House leaders were determined to make sense of the duplicative ethics oversight — and to find a way to marginalize the OCE.
With all the turbulence coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it seemed like the right time to handle this delicate but dicey topic. As more stories were written about the proposed changes, and cable news jumped on the idea that Congress was looking at “weakening” oversight of ethics, the president picked up his phone and did what he does best. In 140 characters, he raised his own concerns about ethics reforms.
With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
........may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
This was the very first presidential tweet that Republican members had to deal with on a vote they were about to cast. The effect was instantaneous and politically breathtaking. Members backed away from the ethics reform idea almost immediately — within hours it was dropped, shelved and forgotten.
President Trump didn’t understand the details as to why the OCE should be reformed and its role reduced; he simply didn’t think it wise to derail the agenda by making it look like ethics were not a priority.
And this week exposed one of the weaknesses of the OCE structure: The fact that anyone at any time for any reason — including brazen political differences — can file a reputation-damaging charge against a sitting member. The very filing of the charge can cause immediate harm.
This week, the victim was Devin Nunes, who is charged, through a complaint with the OCE, with essentially trying too aggressively to find out the facts behind the Trump tweet on Obama administration spying.
In addition, the House Ethics Committee (evenly split between Democrats and Republicans) has opened its own inquiry, so a balanced Oversight Committee will make determinations about the rectitude of Chairman Nunes’s actions.
Facing all of this, Nunes did the right thing by stepping away from the investigation. America needs answers on Russia’s spying, hacking and other crimes, and on the illegal actions that occurred under Obama’s final watch.
But make no mistake: any Republican who attempts to press the matter of the odious actions of Obama national security advisor Susan Rice or others will be treated in a similar fashion to Nunes. His biggest political vulnerability, after all, was the payback for pushing the officials in the executive branch for answers.
And what are the result of Nunes’s pushing to get answers? We have now all read accounts about documents that show that Susan Rice was involved in multiple requests to learn the identities of Trump associates involved in conversations on topics other than Russia. In other words, Obama’s national security adviser, and perhaps others, were spying on the incoming Trump administration.
I am still awestruck at Rice’s answer on March 22 to Judy Woodruff on the “PBS NewsHour.” When asked if she had any knowledge on any unmasking of Trump officials, she very calmly and convincingly said, “I know nothing about this.”
Rice clearly lied to the American people, and she doesn’t just get a few facts wrong. When she lies, it’s a whopper.
In the end, Devin Nunes will be seen as an ardent seeker of information we would never have seen without his visit to the Eisenhower building, but he will have to go through the ethics process to clear the charges against him. At worst, one could charge him with the political equivalent of a speeding ticket.
But Susan Rice has now cemented her reputation as someone who will look the American people in the eye and lie to them about important matters of national security. In so doing, she has done irreparable damage to the surveillance program and the intelligence community. She will never be confirmed by the Senate for any future job, and her only solace is that the left and the Obama operation will lavish her with wealth and career opportunities.
And that is the perfect definition of “the swamp.”
Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC. He was the White House political director to former President George W. Bush.
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