This morning, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made a point of warning House Democrats not to use the powers of executive oversight and investigation they won in yesterday’s midterm elections. He said the incoming House Democratic majority’s plans for investigating Donald Trump’s corruption are tantamount to “presidential harassment,” and he warned that the strategy will backfire on the party in the same way it stung congressional Republicans during the Bill Clinton years. “I’m not so sure it will work for them,” McConnell said.
Obviously this advice was not offered in good faith, but McConnell’s words weren’t meant for Democratic ears to begin with. McConnell was speaking to conservative media and mainstream pundits, and he wanted to lay down the marker that all Democratic investigation of the White House will be illegitimate, punitive, and politically motivated.
McConnell has a receptive audience. On Fox News, former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz -- who spent years leading endless Republican fishing expeditions into the 2012 Benghazi attacks -- complained that Democrats are going to be “insatiable” in their investigations because “they can't believe that Donald Trump's the president. They're going to go after everything from impeachment, to pharmaceuticals, to how is the president profiting from his hotel.” Meanwhile, pundits on other networks are already preemptively scolding Democrats for overreaching with investigations and helping Trump:
To be sure, Democrats House win is, at least in one way, a gift to Trump. They will focus the next two years on investigations, subpoenas, hearings and impeachment threats. Democratic political operatives and the media will love it. And America will hate it.
— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) November 7, 2018
This is an easy trap to fall into -- the mainstream press has an unshakeable affinity for both-sideism that wrongly conflates actual malfeasance (like, say, having your golf-club cronies secretly set veterans policy) with lesser offenses (like, say, being “too aggressive” in investigating the president). Republicans and the conservative media are laying this trap because they understand the threat posed by real, sustained oversight of the Trump administration.
The past two years of government have been marked by two separate, linked dynamics: sprawling and flagrant corruption by the president, his family, and senior members of his government; and the complicity of a Republican-controlled Congress that thwarted all investigation into Trump’s graft and determinedly shirked its oversight duties to shield the president politically.
Now Republicans have lost their ability to protect their corrupt president, and they’re scared that the bill is coming due. And they know full well just how bad it could get: Prior to the election, House Republicans compiled and shared a handy spreadsheet of the Trump administration’s corrupt acts and abuses of power they were worried Democrats would dig into if they won subpoena power. The House GOP’s spreadsheet is remarkable both for the large number of discrete scandals it contained, and the fact that it still doesn’t come anywhere close to a full accounting of the president’s corruption.
What McConnell, Fox News, and other conservatives are banking on now is that the media will assist them in framing all investigations of the president’s actions as nothing more than partisan squabbling and score-settling. They’re going to try and turn the president -- who has so far enjoyed a free hand to abuse his power and enrich himself -- into a victim of “harassment” by a Democratic coalition that is motivated solely by lingering outrage over the 2016 election. It’s a transparently cynical and self-serving ploy to shield Trump from the grossly overdue investigation he deserves.