Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign’s ties to a hostile foreign government.
Imagine if the firing came, according to The New York Times, weeks after Clinton had asked the man to drop a probe of a close associate who had lied about conversations with that nation’s ambassador.
Imagine, further, what would have happened had she invited the ambassador and foreign minister of that hostile government to the Oval Office at the request of their autocratic leader, closed the meeting to U.S. journalists, and claimed to have been tricked when the foreign adversary’s media arm released chummy photos from the meeting.
And then imagine that she had used the meeting to share classified intelligence with the envoys.
Republicans in Congress and conservative news outlets would undoubtedly be clamoring for investigations, if not impeachment. After all, Clinton’s critics spent years trying to make a capital case out of the Benghazi tragedy, then pounded her careless handling of sensitive information through her use of a private server for State Department emails.
Let President Trump try to work with Russia
Now, many of those formerly apoplectic Republicans are shrugging off Trump’s behavior — his campaign’s suspicious ties to the Russian government, his dismissal of FBI Director James Comey and his sharing of classified information with two high-level Russian officials — with only a modest sense of annoyance.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., allowed that it would be nice to have “a little less drama” from the White House. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., compared the Trump White House to “kiddie soccer” (an insult to youth soccer leagues). “It is what it is,” added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
What is it? How about a breathtaking degree of ignorance, incompetence, immaturity and impulsiveness? Trump’s disclosure of classified intelligence would put anyone but a president in legal jeopardy. He has harmed national security by raising questions among allies about whether they should cooperate with the United States and trust America to keep secrets. And he has used the powers of the presidency to attempt to impede a credible investigation into how he came to be president.
Rather than trying to make excuses for the president, Republicans should be providing leadership, staying true to their oaths of office, and serving as credible checks on Trump’s excesses. Even before getting briefed on the latest outrages, they should demand that the next FBI director be a non-partisan career professional, not a politician who could be co-opted by the administration.
They should also get serious about their own fact-finding investigations. Even before Trump’s disclosure of sensitive information and Tuesday’s report in The Times that the president asked Comey to close down an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, their intelligence committees already had at least three angles to pursue: the degree to which Russia interfered with last year’s election, its coordination (if any) with the Trump campaign, and the circumstances surrounding Comey’s ouster.
The work of the House Intelligence Committee has been farcical. The Senate Intelligence Committee has shown more promise, but it might need to be replaced with a select committee with more resources and a higher profile.
The most credible criminal investigation would come from a Justice Department special counsel. The decision on whether to appoint such a person is up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but congressional Republicans should make clear that they would have no objection.
Had Clinton been elected and done a 10th of the things Trump has done, the calls from the right for her removal would be deafening, louder even than the “lock her up” shouts during the presidential campaign.
It’s time for GOP lawmakers to demand more accountability and more competence from their president, whose suitability for office grows ever more tenuous.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.