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GOP Oversight of Trump: Worse Than Watergate

If Republicans won’t engage in oversight now, when will they?

On Tuesday, the GOP defeated our Congressional Resolution of Inquiry, asking the Trump administration about their conflicts of interest and Russian ties, including improper contacts between the White House and the FBI.  This was part of a series of amendments Democrats have offered over the last several weeks to break through a concerted and coordinated stonewall up by the GOP Congress.

We are doing this because one month into the Trump presidency, our nation is witnessing a mean-spirited assault on the media, the courts and law enforcement, and the Republican majority in Congress is not only tolerating, but abetting these attacks.

After Judge James Robart, a Federal District Judge in Washington state, blocked enforcement of President Trump’s executive order, the president referred to him as a “so-called judge,” characterized his decision as “political,” and warned that if something happened to the United States, Judge Robart and the court system should be blamed.
He charged that the judges on the Ninth Circuit panel who reaffirmed the order failed to grasp concepts that even “a bad high school student would understand.” Yet, when we offered an oversight amendment to allow the Judiciary Committee to examine the impact of such threats to courts, every Republican voted against it.

At his now infamous mid-February press conference, President Trump repeatedly critiqued and belittled specific media outlets, and charged their reporting on administration scandals was “fake, because so much of the news is fake.” At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Trump used the Stalinist phrase “enemy of the people” in characterizing the media.  He went on to assert that reporters should not be allowed to rely on anonymous sources, a mere hour after his own aides held an anonymous briefing with the press.  When Democrats offered an amendment to investigate attacks on the free press, Republicans voted in lock step against it.  This puts them on the wrong side of George W. Bush who responded to Trump’s rhetoric by declaring an independent “media to be indispensable to democracy.”

After a “Russian Dossier” shared by a private investigator with numerous media outlets was released on the internet, Mr. Trump lashed out at law enforcement, claiming they were taking “one last shot at me” and comparing them to “Nazi Germany.” Last Friday he chastised the FBI as “leakers” who were putting the nation at risk. When our Resolution offered the Republicans the opportunity to formally press the administration on these matters, they chose to bury it in committee.

These assaults by Mr. Trump are not random tirades and rants, they represent a premeditated and calculated strategy to weaken the very institutions best positioned to safeguard our democracy from abuses of power.  After all, it was the free press (see Woodward and Bernstein), an independent prosecutor (see Leon Jaworski) and the federal courts (see Judge John Sirica) that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Ominously, not only is the Republican majority permitting these unprecedented attacks on our institutional checks and balances, they have become part and parcel of the cover up.  Why else would the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence committees – who are supposed to be leading unbiased investigations -- act at the specific request of the White House to engage in media spin in an effort to counter allegations of pre-election contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government?  During Watergate, Republican Sen. Howard Baker (Tenn.) famously asked “what did the president know and when did he know it?” Today Republicans are asking what does the president want us to say, and when does he want us to say it.

When the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, tells the media to “shut up”; when his senior adviser, Stephen Miller instructs the courts that "the judiciary is not supreme" and "the powers of the president…will not be questioned,” and when the president compares our intelligence service to Nazi Germany, we should all take pause.  When the U.S. Congress not only tolerates but supports such reckless actions we need to be afraid for the future of our democracy.

Our resolution is the “canary in the coal mine.  If Republicans won’t engage in oversight now, when will they?  If Republicans won’t ask for information about numerous potentially unlawful actions, what will they ask for?

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It’s unfortunate we must resort to a resolution of inquiry to learn the truth about these serious issues, but the House has abdicated its constitutional responsibility, and it’s time that we do our duty.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and Rep. Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) is ranking member of the Judiciary’s Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee.