Paul Ryan Is Running Away From His Own Complicity

One of the major story lines since Trump entered the White House has been the way that Republicans have come to his defense rather than hold him accountable. For example, with all that they know about the president by now, this staged photo-op from yesterday is stomach-turning:

Until yesterday, there might have been reason to wonder how much of their defense of the president was simply delusional (i.e., they didn’t see reality) and how much of it has been pretense for political purposes. In my mind, the conversation Erick Erickson had with one of Trump’s congressional defenders yesterday blew up the idea that they don’t see exactly what’s going on.

“But dammit [Trump’s] taking us all down with him. We are well and truly f**ked in November…It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f*cking stupid Forrest Gump. He can’t help himself…He wakes up in the morning, sh*ts all over Twitter, sh*ts all over us, sh*ts all over his staff, then hits golf balls. F*ck him. Of course, I can’t say that in public or I’d get run out of town.”

Keep in mind that this came from a Republican congressman who has regularly gone on Fox News to defend the president. In other words, these folks are brazenly lying to the public about the fact that they KNOW Donald Trump is mentally unfit for the presidency.

That brings us to Paul Ryan, who told friends that his decision to retire was at least partly related to the fact that Trump made his job endlessly frustrating. In other words, Ryan knows too. But rather than do something about the fact that we could all be in danger because of a mentally unstable president, he’s simply going to exit the scene.

Based on what is already in the public record, we also know that Ryan has gone beyond simply covering for Trump’s mental unfitness. First of all, there was this story about a private conversation:

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy…

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

They know—and Ryan instructed them to keep it quiet.

Perhaps the most obvious way that Ryan has been complicit in all the lies Trump and Republicans are telling is his refusal to rein in Rep. Devin Nunes as chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). Because this is a “select” committee, the speaker is able to, at any time, remove any member of the committee at his discretion. Ryan refused to do so, even when Nunes faced charges from the House Ethics Committee about his clandestine meeting at the White House and subsequent news conference where he falsely accused the Obama administration of illegally unmasking the identities of Trump associates.

Beyond that, on at least two separate occasions that we know of, officials have gone to Ryan asking him to rein Nunes in. The first came when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray complained to Ryan that Nunes’s document requests were interfering with ongoing law enforcement investigations. The second came when Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner—chair and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee—went to the speaker after Nunes leaked Warner’s text messages to Fox News. On both occasions Ryan did nothing.

We can speculate about why Ryan would allow a rogue chair to basically destroy the credibility of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. But regardless of his motives, that has been the result. In addition, right wing media has been supplied with a steady stream of conspiracy theories designed to both distract from the Mueller investigation and challenge its credibility. Nunes isn’t the only one responsible for that, Ryan is complicit in letting it happen.

Finally it is worth noting that, in addition to Ryan’s retirement, four Republican members of the HPSCI have announced that they will not run for re-election: Trey Gowdy, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Frank LoBiondo. That might simply be a coincidence in light of the potential blue wave in November. But I doubt it, especially given that both Gowdy and Rooney represent pretty solidly red districts. They know too.

It is obvious that Paul Ryan (and a lot of other Republicans) are very well aware of the danger Donald Trump poses as president and are complicit in not only their silence, but their attempts to cover up the truth. Perhaps they think they can get out of town before any of it catches up to them. That remains to be seen.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.