Jennifer Rubin: A little oversight uncovers a lot of lawlessness

In this March 26, 2019 photo, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., presides at a meeting directing the attorney general to transmit documents to the House of Representatives relating to the actions of former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Judiciary Committee will ready subpoenas this week for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report. This, as the Justice Department appears likely to miss an April 2 deadline set by Democrats for the report’s release. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With a Democratic House majority in place, we see more clearly than ever how Republican docility enabled President Donald Trump’s lawlessness for the first two years of his presidency. When “normal” congressional behavior appears to check the executive branch — e.g. oversight hearings, subpoenas, use of the bully pulpit — we see the degree to which congressional Republicans have been tied at the hip to Trump and his attacks on the rule of law.

We learn, for example, just how irrational, reckless and politicized the security clearance process became. The Washington Post reported April 1:

"Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she and her colleagues issued 'dozens' of denials for security clearance applications that were later approved despite their concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags, according to panel documents released Monday.

"Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said she warned her superiors that clearances 'were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security' - and was retaliated against for doing so."

All of this should have come out a long time ago, but Republicans had no interest in overseeing whether Trump was putting national security at risk.

Not that this news is surprising. We already knew about Rob Porter, the now-former White House staff secretary who was allowed to keep his clearance despite allegations of spousal abuse. We've seen how Trump puts personal, familial and financial interests above those of the nation's, be it self-enrichment during his presidency from his properties, his excessive deference to the Saudis or the pursuit of riches in Moscow during the campaign.

We also know that he has since his campaign surrounded himself with future convicts (e.g. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen) and empowered advisers who were ethically compromised (e.g. Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, Brock Long, Ryan Zinke) and incompetent (e.g. his children). The result is erratic and highly personalized governance conducted at the whim of an ignorant narcissist. This is precisely how authoritarian regimes around the world operate.

The mechanism for stopping such conduct generally rests with Congress. But with former House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all in on partisan loyalty, Trump's whims went unchecked.

The same pattern is evident in Attorney General William Barr's handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. As House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., writes: "The entire reason for appointing the special counsel was to protect the investigation from political influence. By offering us his version of events in lieu of the report, the attorney general, a recent political appointee, undermines the work and the integrity of his department. He also denies the public the transparency it deserves. We require the full report - the special counsel's words, not the attorney general's summary or a redacted version."

Nadler continues: "We require the report, first, because Congress, not the attorney general, has a duty under the Constitution to determine whether wrongdoing has occurred. The special counsel declined to make a 'traditional prosecutorial judgment' on the question of obstruction, but it is not the attorney general's job to step in and substitute his judgment for the special counsel's.

"That responsibility falls to Congress - and specifically to the House Judiciary Committee - as it has in every similar investigation in modern history. The attorney general's recent proposal to redact the special counsel's report before we receive it is unprecedented. We require the evidence, not whatever remains after the report has been filtered by the president's political appointee."

Nadler might have added that it is also Congress's duty to see whether legislation is needed to remedy existing flaws in our counterintelligence system or gaps in our laws, which confer no affirmative duty on campaigns to report foreign meddling.

Instead of acting on behalf of the American people, Barr abets disinformation and public confusion, delaying a proper reckoning of the president's conduct.

If Republicans still held the majority in the House, it's likely we would never see the Mueller report. As things are now, Nadler and his committee might have to resort to subpoenas and the courts to get the full, unredacted report. The report is the work product for the American people, not for Trump or Barr. To be blunt, we taxpayers paid for it and have every right to see it.

Whether it is security clearances, Russian meddling, foreign emoluments, nepotism mixed with conflicts of interest, politicization of the Justice Department, constant lying to the American public or use of the presidency to enrich the current Oval Office occupant, the administration is a study in corruption, the practice of bending public powers to private uses and engaging others to disregard their public obligations.

The first step is to remove the party that fails to uphold our democratic norms. That means throwing Republicans out of the majority in both houses and the White House. The second step is to reevaluate what laws and procedural rules must be changed (just as we did after Watergate). And the third step is a public reckoning for the enablers of this reign of lawlessness — including the Congress, right-wing think tanks, right-wing media and right-wing organizations that sacrificed intellectual and moral integrity for a lousy tax cut and some judges.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.