Senate Republicans haven’t yet said how they plan to handle President Trump’s trial, but on Wednesday they gave us some clues.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others brought in the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to ask him about his report on the FBI’s 2016 probe of the Trump campaign, which delivered unwelcome news for the conspiracy crowd.
The report found serious errors, worrisome abuses and dubious policies, but it also found that investigators didn’t tap Trump’s phones, plant an informant at his campaign, entrap his advisers or execute any of the other conspiracy theories Trump and his defenders floated. To the contrary, Horowitz found no evidence of political bias and concluded that the probe had a legitimate purpose and factual, legal basis.
So Republicans settled on a creative approach: They simply disregarded Horowitz’s findings.
“They were on a mission not to protect Trump but to … protect all of us smelly people from Donald Trump,” Graham alleged. “That’s what this is about.”
Never mind that the inspectors found no such evidence in more than 1 million documents and more than 100 interviews over 19 months. “Whether you believe it or not, I believe it!” Graham announced.
Cruz, too, wasn’t about to let the findings get in his way. “You did not find evidence of political bias. That is a judgment that you have and I disagree with that,” Cruz told the inspector general.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, topped them all, arguing that the failure to find political bias proved there was political bias. “Is not the lack of evidence that you’re talking about itself evidence of bias?” he asked Horowitz.
Let this be a cautionary tale for anybody who still believes Senate Republicans might do things on the level. Even confronted with 434 pages of unbiased, exhaustively researched findings, they covered their ears and cried “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.”
Politico reports that a small group of moderate Democrats in the House met about the possibility of censuring Trump instead of impeaching. Rep. Kurt Schrader, R-Oregon, said it “might be a little more bipartisan.”
You poor, sweet child. In a rational world, Republicans would indeed be open to a way to rebuke Trump’s behavior without removing him. But this is not a rational world. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, declared this week that Trump “did nothing wrong.” (He then asserted, falsely, that Horowitz found that the FBI “spied on a presidential campaign.”)
Now Senate Republicans are forming a copycat cuckoo caucus. FBI Director Chris Wray — a Trump appointee — is the latest of many political appointees and civil servants to say there is “no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.”
So what? Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, joined by Graham and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded Obama administration records to prove otherwise, declaring: “Contrary to the popular narrative in the mainstream media that Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election has been debunked, or ‘no evidence exists,’ there are many unanswered questions that have festered for years.”
Cruz, meanwhile, said on NBC that there is “considerable evidence” of Ukrainian interference, echoing comments by Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-Louisiana.
Trump himself is now spreading a new conspiracy theory, telling a rally Tuesday night that Peter Strzok, one of the FBI officials in the 2016 probe, “needed a restraining order to keep him away from his once lover,” FBI lawyer Lisa Page. “That’s what I heard. I don’t know if it’s true.”
Next, Trump will push to turn the Senate impeachment trial into a circus. His aides have said they want witnesses — presumably, figures such as Hunter Biden and the whistleblower. Democrats, by contrast, may want to call in the likes of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others who refused to participate in the House probe.
Whether to hold a serious trial, a Trumpian circus or skip witnesses entirely will largely be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has claimed he “does not really have ball control,” but that’s nonsense: Almost everything will be decided by a 51-vote majority, giving McConnell full control unless principled (Mitt Romney?) or vulnerable (Susan Collins?) Republicans defect.
Judging from Senate Republicans’ handling of the inspector general’s findings, McConnell will find it difficult to keep it honest, even if he wants to.
Calmly, Horowitz explained that he uncovered no evidence of political bias — not in emails and texts, not in interviews, not from anonymous whistleblowers on his hotline.
It didn’t matter to Republicans.
Graham proclaimed the agents “biased,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, concluded that they “effectively meddled in an ongoing presidential campaign” and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., proclaimed the FBI’s “absolute maliciousness.”
No evidence required.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.